Responsible Jews

Since parshas Netzavim alludes to the agreed covenant of one Jew being responsible for others, it is an appropriate time to discuss the laws and rules of what we call areivus.

Responsible Jews

Question #1: Making Kiddush Twice

When might I be required to recite the two brochos of the Friday night Kiddush a second time on Shabbos morning?

Question #2: A Halachic Conundrum

Can a situation exist whereby someone is halachically required to observe a mitzvah, but cannot fulfill it without someone else performing it on his behalf?

Introduction

Answering both of our opening questions requires that we spend some time understanding a halachic concept called areivus. In the midst of the discussion of the tochachah in parshas Bechukosai, the harsh admonition for not observing the mitzvos, the Torah mentions Vechoshlu ish be’achiv, “Each man will stumble over his friend” (Vayikra 26:37). Rashi suggests a different understanding of the letter beis – not “Each man will stumble over his friend,” but “Each man will stumble because of his friend.” A midrash that may have served as Rashi’s source reads more explicitly: “Vechoshlu ish be’achiv — Do not explain this as over his friend, but because of the sins of his friend.” The midrash continues: “From this we see the concept she’Yisroel areivin eilu la’eilu,that Jews are accountable for one another (Eichah Rabbah, Parashah 3). This idea is popularly referred to as kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh, an expression that I have not found in Chazal, although it is used frequently by rishonim and acharonim. The closest use I found in Chazal is in a passage of Gemara, where it says “Vechoshlu ish be’achivmelameid shekulan areivim zeh bazeh” (Sanhedrin 27b).

Different halachic ramifications

There are numerous halachic ramifications of this general concept, including:

(1) The mitzvah of tochachah, which requires that one Jew reprove another Jew who is disobeying the laws of the Torah (see Vayikra 19:17).

(2) The prohibition called chanufah, usually translated as “flattering,” that prohibits complimenting or honoring someone, either implicitly or explicitly, who violates the Torah (Sifrei, Bamidbar 35:33).

(3) A requirement to protest when we see someone breaching the Torah (see Shabbos 54b).

(4) A legal concept called areivus. Although we usually think of areivus as a social responsibility, it also includes a legal concept with very specific halachic ramifications.

We will leave the details of the first three mitzvos for another time. This article will explore some of the concepts of the fourth, the law of areivus.

Areivus explains why someone who has already fulfilled a mitzvah can perform it again to assist someone else fulfill their obligation. To understand this properly, I will first introduce an overview of how areivus works and what it accomplishes. We will then study some Talmudic passages that explain the principles of areivus.

How areivus operates

Here is a very common example of how areivus operates: Reuven has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of reciting Kiddush, but he is unable to read the text himself. There are people available who can recite Kiddush on Reuven’s behalf, but they have already fulfilled the mitzvah. Does Reuven fulfill the mitzvah if they recite Kiddush on his behalf?

The answer is that he does, because of the concept of areivus. Since Reuven is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah, and the other people are also commanded to observe it, they may recite Kiddush on his behalf, notwithstanding that they are not fulfilling the mitzvah at the moment. (The person performing the act of the mitzvah is called the motzi, because he is enabling someone else to fulfill the mitzvah. The word motzi can be used either as a noun, defining the person performing the mitzvah, or as a verb, when it describes the performance of a mitzvah on behalf of someone else. In the course of this article, I will be using the word both ways, so stay alert!)

The three requirements:

For areivus to work, three requirements must be met:

  1. The motzi must be obligated

The motzi must be someone who is obligated to observe this mitzvah.

As we mentioned above, the motzi does not need to be fulfilling the mitzvah at the moment — he may have fulfilled the mitzvah already, or, for that matter, plan to observe the mitzvah later.

  1. Have in mind to be motzi

The motzi must have in mind that he is performing the mitzvah on behalf of someone else, who will now be fulfilling the mitzvah. He can have in mind that whoever hears the words or sounds of the mitzvah, even if the motzi is unaware that the other person is listening, thereby fulfills the mitzvah.

  1. Have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah

The person for whom the motzi is performing the mitzvah must have in mind that by hearing the words or sounds of the mitzvah, he (or she) is fulfilling the mitzvah.

Some Talmudic background

Before we discuss some practical examples of these laws, we will explore some of the Talmudic sources that demonstrate these rules. The first passage we will study requires an introduction.

The Torah recognizes a halachic status called an eved kena’ani, a gentile slave, which is someone non-Jewish who is owned by a Jew. An eved is not required to observe all the mitzvos of a Jew – after all, he is not Jewish — yet he must observe many of the mitzvos. The eved accepts the obligation to fulfill these mitzvos in a procedure that is similar to that of geirus, conversion. After circumcision, he immerses in a mikveh and accepts the mitzvos that an eved is obligated to keep.

As just mentioned, an eved is not obligated to observe all the mitzvos. For example, he is exempt from such mitzvos as shofar, sukkah, tefillin, and studying Torah. However, when an eved is freed, he achieves the status of a Jew and becomes obligated to observe all the mitzvos, like any other Jew.

A blasting slave!

Since an eved is not obligated to observe the mitzvah of shofar, a Jew does not fulfill the mitzvah if an eved blows the shofar on the Jew’s behalf. As I mentioned above, the first rule of areivus is that the motzi must be someone who is obligated to observe this mitzvah.

The half slave

What happens if a slave was purchased by two people in equal partnership, and then one of the owners frees him? That owner can only free the half that he himself owns. That half of the slave is now free, which means that he is obligated to observe mitzvos. On the other hand, half is still owned by the other master. This means that the eved now has the nebulous status of being half-Jewish and half-eved. The halachah calls him very literally chatzi eved chatzi ben chorin, “half slave, half freedman.”

Here is where this half-slave now trods new halachic ground. His half that is free is duty-bound to observe all the mitzvos, whereas the other half is obliged to observe only those mitzvos compulsory for an eved. Regarding most mitzvos, this means that he now observes them. He will be obligated to observe, for example, the mitzvah of sukkah.

What does he do in regard to fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar, since half of him is obligated to observe the mitzvah, and the other half is not? Can he blow shofar to fulfill the mitzvah, or must he hear the shofar from someone else?

The Gemara quotes a beraisa that rules that a half-eved is required to hear shofar, but cannot blow shofar on behalf of other people, even on behalf of other half-eveds. The Gemara then explains that he does not fulfill the mitzvah if he blows shofar even to fulfill the mitzvah for himself. Why not? How can he be required to observe the mitzvah of shofar and not be able to fulfill it himself?

The answer is that his eved part is not required to observe the mitzvah, and his non-eved half cannot blow the shofar by itself. As a result, the shofar is being blown by someone who is not fully obligated in the mitzvah (Rosh Hashanah 29a). Even if the chatzi eved chatzi ben chorin happens to be a master blaster, he has no other way to fulfill the mitzvah other than to hear the shofar blown by someone else, that is, a Jewish adult male who is fully obligated in the mitzvah! (Since a fully freed man has the halachic status of a Jewish adult male, he can be motzi others in the mitzvah, including a chatzi eved chatzi ben chorin.) Thus, we have an anomalous situation — he is required to observe the mitzvah, yet someone else must be motzi him! We now have the answer to one of our opening questions: “Can a situation exist whereby someone is halachically required to observe a mitzvah, but cannot fulfill it without someone else performing it on his behalf?”

Areivus and brochos

The Gemara discusses whether areivus will allow someone to recite a brocha for you before you eat, even  when the one reciting the brocha is not eating. Why should this case be halachically any different from what we have already discussed? Allow me to explain.

Of the conditions mentioned above for areivus to work, one was that both the motzi and the person fulfilling the mitzvah must be required to observe the mitzvah. The reason for these requirements takes us back to our Biblical sources for the concept of areivus — one Jew is responsible for another. Since one Jew is responsible for the mitzvah observance of another, the inability of one Jew to fulfill a mitzvah devolves onto other Jews. They become required to fulfill his mitzvah for him.

However, this concept holds true only regarding a mitzvah that the motzi is required to perform. Since no one is required to eat specific foods or to smell pleasant fragrances, these brochos hanehenin, blessings of benefit, are not required unless one is, himself, benefiting. Consequently, the rule of areivus does not apply. The Gemara explains that although areivus allows a motzi to recite a birchas hamitzvah on behalf of someone else, one cannot recite a brocha of benefit, unless the motzi is also enjoying the benefit.

Exception

The Gemara subsequently concludes that there are two instances in which one may use areivus and recite the brocha, even though the motzi is not presently fulfilling the mitzvah. These two exceptions are the brocha of hamotzi, recited prior to eating matzoh at the Pesach seder, and the brocha of hagafen, recited as part of Kiddush. In these two instances, although the brocha appears to be a regular brocha of benefit, since one is required to partake in this benefit in order to fulfill these mitzvos, one is therefore required to recite these brochos. Consequently, they have the halachic status of birchos hamitzvah. Thus, in these two instances, one person can be motzi another in the brochos, although the motzi is not fulfilling the mitzvah.

King Yannai

A difference passage of Gemara (Brochos 48a) relates an interesting story that reflects a different context of the law of areivus. To quote the entire passage of Gemara:

King Yannai and his queen had concluded a banquet, and, since he had killed all the rabbis, there was no one to bensch on their behalf.

Yannai said to his wife, “Who will provide us with someone to recite the brochos for us?”

She answered him, “If you swear to me that you will not give him any trouble, I’ll bring you such a man.” He swore to her. She then brought her brother, Shimon ben Shetach, and had him sit between them at the head of the table. Yannai then said to Shimon ben Shetach, “See how much honor we give you!” to which Shimon ben Shetach responded, “It is not you who provide us with this honor, but the Torah.” Yannai then turned to his wife, “I see that he does not accept my rule.”

They then brought Shimon ben Shetach a cup of wine upon which to recite the brochos of bensching. He now wondered aloud. “How should I recite the zimun (since he had not eaten with them)? Should I say, ‘Blessed is He from Whose [bounty] Yannai and his friends have partaken’?” He then drank the cup of wine, because he held that this would require him to recite birchas hamazon (see Tosafos ad loc.). They then brought him another cup of wine, which he used for the bensching.

The Gemara concludes that Shimon ben Shetach followed his own opinion here, which is not accepted by the other authorities, in that he held that one could recite birchas hamazon to be motzi others, even if all that he had consumed was a cup of wine. The accepted halachah is that one must eat bread to recite birchas hamazon and to be motzi others in zimun.

There are several fascinating historical, sociological and halachic conclusions to be drawn from this passage of Gemara.

  1. Although King Yannai had assassinated almost all of the rabbonim and gedolei Yisrael, he was still interested in having birchas hamazon recited at his banquet.
  2. No member of King Yannai’s entourage knew birchas hamazon by heart, yet they wanted it to be said correctly.
  3. None of the assembled had a written copy of birchas hamazon. (Based on a passage of Gemara in Mesechta Shabbos [115b], this is probably accurate. However, we will leave this topic for a different article.) Alternatively, none of them knew how to read.
  4. Although Yannai’s wife suspected that, given the opportunity, Yannai would kill Shimon ben Shetach, she knew that if he swore an oath, he would abide by it. Thus, he was more concerned about violating his oath than eliminating someone whom he felt challenged his authority.
  5. Notwithstanding King Yannai’s personal history, Shimon ben Shetach was unafraid of talking to him in a direct, blunt way. (See a similar story about Shimon ben Shetach and King Yannai in Sanhedrin 19).
  6. Although Shimon ben Shetach was the head of the Sanhedrin (see Chagigah 16b), there are areas of halachah in which we do not rule as he does.
  7. Shimon ben Shetach assumed that the wine was kosher.

Women leading zimun

Another passage of Gemara (Brochos 20b) applies the above-quoted rules of areivus to a different situation. The Gemara there discusses whether the requirement that a woman recite birchas hamazon is min haTorah or only miderabbanan. The Gemara notes that a practical difference in halachah that will result is whether women may lead the bensching – what we call the zimun. In earlier days, the person who led the zimun also bensched on behalf of the assembled. Thus, a requirement is that he be someone obligated to fulfill the mitzvah on the same level as they are. Only someone who is required to bensch min haTorah may lead the zimun if it includes men, who are required to bensch min haTorah. Therefore, if women are required to bensch min haTorah, they may lead the bensching of a group that includes men. On the other hand, if women are not required, they may not lead such a bensching.

Since the question whether women are obligated to bensch min haTorah or not remains unresolved, women do not lead a zimun when men are part of the zimun. However, when there are only women in attendance, they may create their own zimun (Brochos 45b; Arachin 3).

Areivus in action!

Here are some less common applications of the mitzvah of areivus. Mr. Goldberg is, unfortunately, hospitalized, and no one else in his family is able to recite Kiddush. On his way home from shul, Mr. Berkowitz can stop off at the Goldberg house and recite Kiddush on their behalf, although he is not fulfilling the mitzvah now, but intends to fulfill the mitzvah only when he gets to his own home. This is because the Goldbergs are required to recite Kiddush, and the law of areivus allows another Jew obligated in the mitzvah to perform the mitzvah on their behalf. (According to some authorities, the ladies of the house should daven maariv before Mr. Berkowitz can recite Kiddush for them. This is a topic that we will leave for a future article.)

Havdalah and not Kiddush

One of my daughters was born when I was a rav in a small Jewish community. Since it has become common custom that one celebrates the birth of a daughter with a Kiddush, I was now faced with an interesting conundrum. Some of the people who would attend the Kiddush might drive on Shabbos to attend, so I could not consider the standard Kiddush as an option. My wife and I decided to avoid this problem by making a melaveh malkah on a Saturday night instead.

What does this have to do with areivus?

Although I had already made havdalah that night, at the melaveh malkah, I recited havdalah another time, on behalf of those individuals who had not yet performed the mitzvah. This could be done, because of the concept of areivus. Of course, this should be done only when there are individuals who have not as yet performed the mitzvah and would have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of havdalah when it is performed for them.

Kiddush Shabbos morning

Sometimes, one has guests Shabbos morning who did not yet recite or hear the Friday night Kiddush. Since that Kiddush can be recited the entire Shabbos, these guests are required to hear both brochos of Kiddush during the daytime of Shabbos. Therefore, one should recite that Kiddush on their behalf at the Shabbos morning meal. However, bear in mind that, since they will be yotzei only if they intend to be, they must be sufficiently interested in Judaism to understand that they are thereby fulfilling a mitzvah. I suggest discussing this with your own rav or posek for guidance what to do.

Conclusion

The mitzvos of the Torah were given not to the Jewish people as individuals, but as a community, and to each individual Jew as a member of that community. This affects many areas of halachah, one of which is the mitzvah of areivus that we have just introduced. My fellow Jew’s obligation to observe mitzvos transfers to me in a way that I can now enable him to perform them.

 

Found Money – A Drama in Real Life

Parshas Ki Seitzei includes the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. This article was published previously in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries. Should you be interested in purchasing the book, you may do so via the website, RabbiKaganoff.com, or by sending me an e-mail note.

Hershel calls me one day, somewhat agitated and very excited, with the following shaylah:

“While making an unusual household repair, I discovered a wad of hundred-dollar bills hidden in a secret place,” he begins. The questions now come tumbling out. “I know this is not money I ever put aside. How do I determine who the owner is? May I trust any previous resident of the house who claims that the money is his? Do I need to be concerned that the money was used for illegal activity? What do I do if I can’t find the owner?” And then finally, with a hopeful tone in his voice, “May I borrow the money while I am trying to locate the owner? We are behind on the mortgage, and it would be really helpful!”

Before answering Hershel’s questions, we need to clarify the Torah’s rules for returning lost objects:

BASIC HASHAVAS AVEIDAH RULES

As we are all aware, there is a mitzvah to return a lost object to its owner (Devorim 22:1-3; Shemos 23:4; Bava Metzia 26b). There are actually two different mitzvos, a prohibition against ignoring the lost object and a positive mitzvah to return it. Someone who retrieves the lost object and successfully returns it fulfills both mitzvos.

There are several questions we must answer when confronted with a hashavas aveidah situation. Among them are:

  1. Where did you find the item? Did you find it in a place where there are many people who do not observe the laws of hashavas aveidah, in which case the owner would assume that the finder would probably not return it? Or perhaps you found it in a shul or other place where the people passing through observe the halachos of hashavas aveidah.
  2. Is it an object that the owner probably already knows that he lost, such as large amounts of money, or is it something that he probably does not realize he lost, such as a pen or small change?
  3. Does the item have an identifying marking, called a siman, or not?
  4. Was the item placed intentionally, or does it appear to have been dropped?

YIUSH

An important principle governing the laws of lost objects is the concept called yiush, which means that the owner does not expect to retrieve the lost item. Once the owner has given up hope of getting the object back, it is halachically considered that he has relinquished possession (Chinuch, Mitzvah 538; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 262:5). At this point, there is no requirement to return the lost item, and one certainly does not need to try to locate the owner. Nevertheless, it is still a mitzvah lifnim mishuras hadin, beyond the requirements of halacha, to return the lost object (Bava Metzia 24b).

EXAMPLE: If a driver observed something blow out of his car window and did not return for it, we may assume that the owner was me’ya’eish (gave up hope of retrieving it).

We now understand the basis of the first question we posed above: Was the item found in a place where the owner would assume that it will not be returned, such as a shopping mall, or in a place where it might be returned, such as a shul?

Based on what we have explained, there is no halachic requirement to return an item that was lost in a mall or other place frequented by people who do not observe hashavas aveidah. The finder may assume that the owner gave up hope of having the item returned, even if it has a siman. However, it is a mitzvah lifnim mishuras hadin to return the item.

Many poskim contend that there is no halachic requirement to return an item that is used by a child, such as a toy or child’s garment. Since adults know that children lose things all the time, these items are categorized as aveidah mi’daas, items that the owner knows may be lost since he gave them to someone who is not halachically responsible (see Bava Basra 87b; Mishpetei Torah III pg. 44). Therefore, when a parent gives a child these items he is not surprised when they are lost—it is an assumption that they will periodically lose their clothes, toys, and school supplies.

This halacha does not apply to an item that might be used by a child over bar- or bas-mitzvah, since they are halachically responsible.

ITEMS THAT THE OWNER DOES NOT KNOW HE LOST

Until now we have been discussing items that the owner knows that he lost. What is the halacha concerning items that the owner does not yet realize that he has lost?

The Gemara discusses the rule governing yiush shelo midaas (lit., giving up hope without knowledge), which refers to items that someone will give up hope of retrieving as soon as he realizes he lost them; however, he does not yet know that he has lost them. Are these items already considered ownerless? This question is probably the most famous dispute between the two great Talmudic scholars Abaye and Rava, and it is often taught as an introduction to didactic Gemara study.

The Gemara concludes that yiush shelo midaas is not valid yiush until the owner realizes his loss. This means that, although the owner will eventually give up hope of retrieving the item, until he realizes his loss, the item is still his property and someone else may not take possession of it.

How does the finder know if the owner has realized his loss? In general, this depends on the item. Someone who finds a large item that the owner was probably carrying himself may assume that the owner has already realized his loss by the time it was found. Similarly, if you found a large quantity of money on the street, you can assume that the owner is already aware of his loss since one tends to check one’s pockets frequently when carrying large sums of money. Therefore, we assume that the owner realized his loss by the time the finder found it. It is therefore permitted for the finder to keep the item.

On the other hand, if one finds an item that might go unnoticed for a while, such as small change, one should assume that the owner may not yet know of his loss and one should not assume that the finder can consider it his.

WHAT IS A SIMAN?

One of the distinctions I mentioned above was between items that have an identifying marking, called a siman, and those that do not. What is a siman and why is it so significant to the halachos of lost objects?

Someone who lost an item in a shul or similar place where most of the people are halacha abiding would assume that people would try to return the item. As we will explain shortly, to return a lost item, it is important that the item have a siman that the owner can use to identify it. A siman may be a name tag or an unusual marking or blemish on the object – anything that the owner would know about but that someone else probably would not.

MUST IT BE A PHYSICAL SIMAN?

An item placed in an unusual way or in an unusual location also has a valid siman – someone who knows this information would be demonstrating that he or she is the item’s owner. For example, although money does not usually have a siman, coins placed in a pile or in an unusual location have a valid siman (see Bava Metzia 23b).

The number of bills involved would also be a valid siman. Thus, the number of bills in a wad of dropped bills is a valid siman (Bava Metzia 23b).

Combining the rules that we have learned we reach the following conclusion:

Someone who finds a lost item in a shul or other place where the owner would assume that people observe hashavas aveidah should see if the lost item has a siman. If it does, then the owner will assume that he can still retrieve his lost item, and the finder is required to notify people that he found such an item.

In the days of Chazal there were different methods utilized for this notification. A contemporary method is to hang up a sign on a bulletin board near where the item was found or to bring the item to a functioning “lost and found” depot.

When finding a lost object that has a siman, one should not announce it in a way that gives away its siman. Thus, if one found a watch in shul, one should announce (on the sign or bulletin) that he found a watch and leave it for the owner to identify the item by its defining characteristics (Bava Metzia 28b).

AN ITEM THAT WAS PLACED INTENTIONALLY

If the item appears to have been placed and forgotten, rather than dropped, one should leave the item where it is, since the owner will probably try to retrace his steps to find it.

If the item was left in a very secure place, one should leave the item there, since it will not disappear (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 260:1). Thus in Hershel’s case, if the owner does not surface and cannot be located, the money should be left in its place and not touched, and certainly not borrowed, until the owner returns for it. In this instance, even if Hershel removed it from its place he should put it back since he knows that the owner did not return to look for it in the interim (Rama 260:10 and Sma 48).

However, if the item was left in a place where it will be thrown away, one should try to return it to its owner (Bava Metzia 25b).

WHEN DOES THE FINDER NOT RETURN IT?

One should not return the item without determining that the person can prove he is the owner. This is accomplished when the owner provides his siman identifying himself as the legitimate owner of the lost item.

If the claimant is dishonest, one should not return the lost item to him, even if he seemingly demonstrates that he is the correct owner. This is because of suspicion that he has discovered proof to claim falsely that he is the owner (Bava Metzia 28b).

WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT PICK UP A LOST ITEM?

If the lost item has no siman, you are not obligated to pick it up since you will anyway be unable to return it to the owner. Furthermore, there are two different circumstances whereby one should not pick up the lost item, and if one did, one may not keep it, even though the lost item has no siman. One case we mentioned above — where the owner originally placed the item there intentionally and subsequently forgot to retrieve it (makom hinuach). In this case, one should not pick up the lost item because the owner might still be able to retrace his steps and find the item, yet if you pick it up he will be unable to claim it since it has no siman (see Bava Metzia 25b). However, if leaving the item in its place will cause it to become destroyed or stolen, one should remove it and try to “announce” it using its location as a siman (ibid.).

WHAT IF THE OWNER DOES NOT KNOW HE LOST IT?

The second case where one should not pick up the lost item is where the owner does not yet know that he lost it (yi’ush shelo midaas) and the item has no siman. As explained above, since the owner does not yet realize his loss, he has not yet relinquished ownership. Therefore, the finder cannot keep the lost object.

In both of these instances, if the item has been lost for a long enough time that one may assume that the owner found out about his loss, one may keep the lost item. This is because of the following reason:

MAY I EVER KEEP AN ITEM THAT I FOUND?

If the owner knows that he has lost the object and despairs of retrieving it, then the finder may keep it, provided he picked it up only after the owner gave up hope to ever get it back (Bava Metzia 22b). Therefore, if the finder can assume reasonably that the owner has already given up hope that he will retrieve the lost object, the finder may keep it (Chinuch, Mitzvah 538).

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE “FOUND MONEY”?

Having explored the basic laws of hashavas aveidah, we now return to the saga of Hershel’s found money.

In our particular case, we can assume that someone who had lived previously in the house lost the money. Thus, we should be able to identify all the possible candidates and then try to narrow down the list.

We have no halachic reason to be concerned that the money was earned illegally.

I asked Hershel who had lived in the apartment previously. He told me he would contact the previous tenant and find out what he could.

Hershel contacted the previous tenants, a fine, halachically-committed couple, Chayim and Rochel. Hershel asked them if they had hid money in the apartment and forgotten about it, without hinting to them where the hiding place was so that he would not reveal the siman.

“No, I have no recollection of hiding money in the apartment that we left behind,” responded Chayim, “I am sure the money is not ours.”

From Chayim, Hershel found out the identity of the previous resident of the apartment, a not-yet-observant Jew, Phil. With a bit of luck, Hershel located Phil, and began to explain to him about the money.

“I hid money all over the house, in every hiding place you can imagine!” responded Phil, “I don’t even remember all the hiding places I used. Indeed, I probably didn’t take all the money with me when I left. I am sure the money is mine!”

Of course, this statement does not provide us with any help. Maybe the money is indeed Phil’s, but he must provide us with a siman. Not remembering the siman does not allow us to give it to him. For all we know, Phil could be a dishonest person, and the money belongs to one of the tenants who lived there before him.

Unfortunately, this put Hershel in a very difficult position. As mentioned above, one may not return money to a dishonest person, even if he provides a siman, because of concern that he might have guessed right (Mishnah Bava Metzia 28b). Thus, if Phil is indeed dishonest, Hershel could not trust him, even if Phil would guess where the money had been found.

Hershel attempted to explain to Phil that perhaps he could provide some more information about the money, such as where the money was hidden or how much money there was. Phil became very testy. “I am telling you the money is mine. What’s the matter, you don’t trust me?!”

Hershel called me back, a bit disappointed. He had tried to fulfill the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, but unfortunately the trail ended here. We will never know whether Phil was the legitimate owner of the money, but the halacha requires us to be reasonably certain who is the owner before we return to him the lost item. Furthermore, there was no way to trace tenants of the apartment who lived there before Phil and to try to ascertain whose money it was. Hershel assumed that he would have to leave the money where he found it, hoping that perhaps one day someone will come by to identify the money properly by its simanim.

Maybe one day the true owner will realize that he had left money in the house and come back for it. Not coming back for the money could only be attributable to two causes:

  1. The loser has forgotten about the money. In this case, the finder may not keep it since the loser never intentionally gave up hope of finding it. If at some time in the future he remembers about the money, he may recall where he put it and come back to claim it. Thus, the money is still the property of the loser. In this instance, Hershel should leave the money in place as long as he retains residence in the house (Sma 262:12).
  2. The loser remembers that he hid the money, but he cannot recall where. In this instance, we may assume that when he realized that he cannot remember where he put the money, he would give up hope of ever finding the money again, and the money is hefker, ownerless. In this situation, Hershel would be allowed to keep the money (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 260:1 as understood by Pischei Choshen Vol. I, pg. 282).

We see that returning lost items is a beautiful and important mitzvah, and that, sometimes, the details of the halacha are fairly complicated.

 

What Berachos Will We Recite When Mashiach Comes?

Since Parshas Shoftim discusses the laws of the Jewish king, I thought it appropriate to discuss this topic, since we hope that the next Jewish king will come soon and be the Mashiach. This article was previously published in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries. Should you be interested in purchasing the book, you may do so via the website, RabbiKaganoff.com or by sending me an e-mail.

What Berachos Will We Recite When Mashiach Comes?

Shimon asked me recently what berachos we will recite when mashiach comes, and when we will recite those berachos. I must admit that, surprisingly, no one had ever asked me this shaylah before. I did discover two short responsa on the topic, both dealing only with certain aspects of the subject.

Subsequently, my son showed me a pamphlet that included a list of berachos that we will recite upon that auspicious occasion. However, the list included errors and was incomplete. Hopefully this article will prepare us better for the occasion we daven for three times a day, and will itself hasten the redemption.

Before discussing the shaylah, we must first clarify an important fact, one that a surprising number of Jewish people do not know:

Who is mashiach, and what will he accomplish?

Mashiach is a Torah scholar descended from David HaMelech, who will reestablish the halachic Jewish monarchy in Eretz Yisrael and influence the entire Jewish people to observe halacha meticulously, to the finest detail.[i] He will be wiser than his ancestor, Shelomoh HaMelech, will be a prophet almost as great as Moshe Rabbeinu; he will teach the entire people how to serve Hashem, and his advice will be sought by all the nations of the world. He will gather the Jews who are presently scattered to the ends of the world, expand Jewish territory more than ever before, and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. (This follows the approach of the Rambam, Hilchos Melachim Chapter 11. There is a dispute as to whether the third Beis HaMikdash will be built under mashiach’s supervision, or whether it will descend from heaven.[ii] There is also a dispute whether the ingathering of the exile is performed by mashiach or occurs immediately prior to his arrival. We will find out for certain when the events unfold.) After mashiach establishes his dominion, there will be no more wars, famine, jealousy, or competition, since the entire world will be filled with only one desire: to know Hashem and draw close to Him.[iii]

The fact that mashiach is both the political leader of klal Yisrael and also a leading talmid chacham caused Rav Shmuel Hominer, a great tzadik and talmid chacham of the previous generation, to ask Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach the following interesting shaylah, which I paraphrase:

“When we merit meeting mashiach, we will be required to recite four berachos to praise Hashem upon the occasion: (1) chacham harazim, The wise One who knows all secrets [which I will explain shortly]; (2) shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, Who bestowed of His wisdom to those who fear Him; (3) shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, Who bestowed of His honor to those who fear Him; and (4) shehecheyanu.” Rav Hominer then proceeded to ask whether the second and third berachos, both of which begin with the word shechalak should be recited as two separate berachos, or if they are combined into one beracha, shechalak meichachmaso u’mikevodo lirei’av, Who bestowed of His wisdom and honor to those who fear Him. Let me explain his question:

Chazal instituted the following blessing, to be made when one sees a Jewish king:  Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, that Hashem bestowed of His honor to those who fear Him. A different, but similar, beracha was instituted to be recited upon seeing a tremendous talmid chacham: Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, that He bestowed of His wisdom to those who fear Him.[iv]

Chazal also instituted the recital of similar berachos when one sees a non-Jewish king, shenasan mikevodo lebasar vadam, that Hashem gave of His honor to human beings; and shenasan meichachmaso lebasar vadam, that Hashem gave of His wisdom to human beings, when one sees a gentile scholar.[v]

(Note that the berachos recited over a Jewish king or scholar use the word shechalak whereas the berachos recited over gentiles use the word shenasan. The word shechalak implies that the recipient of this power or wisdom recognizes that these are gifts received from Hashem, and that Hashem retains total control over them.[vi] However, the gentile king or scholar views these Divine gifts as his own accomplishments and does not recognize Hashem’s ongoing involvement in his success.)

Since mashiach will be both a king and a Torah scholar, Rav Hominer assumed that someone meeting him should recite both berachos. However, Rav Hominer queried whether these two similar berachos are combined into one beracha, shechalak meichachmaso umikevodo lirei’av  – that Hashem bestowed of His wisdom and honor to those who fear Him.

Rav Shelomoh Zalman replied that we do not combine these two berachos, even when seeing a Jewish king who is also a talmid chacham.[vii] He pointed out that berachos are generally kept separate, even when their themes are similar. As Rav Shelomoh Zalman noted, an earlier author, the Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah,[viii] discussed this same shaylah in the eighteenth century and reached the same conclusion.

It is noteworthy that several poskim contend that we no longer recite the beracha shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av upon seeing a noteworthy talmid chacham, maintaining that our generations no longer possess Torah scholars of the stature required to recite this beracha. (This approach is quoted by Shu’t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah, 2:237; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev 1:13; and Aruch HaShulchan 224:6. On the other hand, Chayei Adam 63:8; Kaf HaChayim 224:18; and Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 10:13 rule that we do recite this beracha today. Several anecdotes are recorded about great talmidei chachamim who recited the beracha upon seeing gedolim, such as the Ragitzchaver Gaon, the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, and Rav Gustman. See, for example, Piskei Teshuvos, Chapter 224 footnote #17.) Nevertheless, both Rav Hominer and Rav Shelomo Zalman assumed that we will recite this beracha upon witnessing mashiach, either because they held that we do recite this beracha today, or that mashiach will clearly be a scholar of this league.

Baruch Chacham Harazim — Knower of Secrets

In the above-quoted correspondence with Rav Shelomoh Zalman, Rav Hominer, mentioned that we will recite two other berachos when greeting mashiach: Baruch chacham harazim and she’hechiyanu. What is the beracha of Baruch chacham harazim?

The Gemara[ix] records that someone who witnesses 600,000 Jews gathered together recites Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam chacham harazim, the wise One who knows all secrets.[x] This beracha praises Hashem for creating such a huge multitude of people, each with his own unique personality and physical appearance. (The Gemara records a different beracha to recite when observing a similarly large-sized throng of gentiles.) The wording of the beracha notes that only Hashem knows the secrets that are in the heart of each of these people.[xi]

Rav Hominer pointed out that since the entire Jewish people will surround mashiach, there will be no doubt at least 600,000 Jews together, enabling us to say this beracha. Note, however, that we will recite this beracha upon seeing the huge crowd, and will not recite the other berachos until we actually see mashiach.

Shehecheyanu

The fourth beracha mentioned by Rav Hominer is shehecheyanu, based on the halacha that if one sees a close friend whom one has not seen for thirty days, one recites shehecheyanu because of one’s excitement.[xii] Certainly, seeing mashiach for the first time will generate more excitement than seeing a close friend that one has not seen for thirty days! (Compare this to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 225:2.)

Shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv

However, I would raise the following query: Should we recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv (He who is good and brings benefit) upon seeing mashiach?

The Mishnah teaches: “Upon hearing good tidings, one recites Baruch hatov vihameitiv.

One who builds a new house or purchases new items recites Baruch shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazman hazeh.[xiii] When one hears good tidings that are beneficial only for him, he recites shehecheyanu; if others benefit also, he recites hatov vehameitiv.[xiv] Similarly, when acquiring new appliances, one recites hatov vihameitiv if other people benefit; if only one person benefits, as is usually the case when purchasing new clothes, then he or she recites shehecheyanu.[xv]

So, which beracha will we recite upon the coming of mashiach, shehecheyanu or hatov vihameitiv? After all, it is not just the excitement of seeing the mashiach, but the realization that he will change the entire world for the better that generates the excitement and the beracha.

In my opinion, we will recite both shehecheyanu and hatov vehameitiv, but not at the same time. We will certainly recite hatov vehameitiv when we hear the wonderful tidings of mashiach’s arrival. After all, if one recites the beracha when hearing that one receives any kind of bounty, how much more so for the gift of mashiach’s long-awaited arrival!

In addition, according to Rav Shmuel Hominer and Rav Shelomoh Zalman, one will recite shehecheyanu upon seeing mashiach the first time, due to the personal pleasure of witnessing him.

Although this now completes the list of berachos mentioned by Rav Hominer, I believe at least one more beracha should be added to the list:

Returning the widow to her property

The Gemara[xvi] teaches us that someone who sees Jewish houses in Eretz Yisrael that have been restored after the churban recites the beracha of matziv gvul almanah, He who reestablishes a widow in her borders, referring to the restoration of the Jewish people to the Holy Land. Rashi explains that this Gemara applies to a period such as that of Bayis Sheini, when the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael after the exile, and the Rif states that it refers specifically to the restoration of shuls and Batei Medrash. Obviously, we will recite this beracha the first time we see either the restored Beis HaMikdash or the batei medrash and shuls of a rebuilt Yerushalayim.

Why don’t we recite this beracha now?

We do not recite this beracha until mashiach arrives and we no longer need to worry about our enemies.[xvii] However, as soon as mashiach has accomplished his purpose, we will recite this beracha on every rebuilt shul and beis medrash we see in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, we might recite this beracha even before actually seeing mashiach himself!

An earlier teshuvah

There actually was an earlier responsum, discussing what berachos we will recite when mashiach arrives. Someone asked Rav Chayim Felaggi, zt”l, a great nineteenth-century posek who was the rav of Izmir, Turkey, the following shaylah, “When mashiach redeems us, what beracha will we recite upon the redemption and in appreciation of Hashem’s benefiting us?”

Since the teshuvah is fairly short, I am translating it:

“It appears that we should recite a beracha of ‘ga’al Yisrael,’ ‘That you redeemed us from this bitter exile,’ similar to when we complete retelling the story of our Exodus on Pesach and recite ‘And we thank You and recite a new song on our redemption. We conclude with the beracha, “He who redeemed Israel.”’ After the future redemption, we will recite a similar beracha. We will also recite shehecheyanu for experiencing this wondrous time, since, without question, this day will be established as a Yom Tov.”[xviii]

Recently, I saw someone rule that we will recite a beracha “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Go’el Yisrael” as soon as mashiach arrives. However, I believe this to be an incorrect understanding of Rav Felaggi’s teshuvah. Nowhere do Chazal record a beracha with the text “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam go’el Yisrael, nor do they specifiy a beracha to be made when one is redeemed. Rather, what Rav Chayim Felaggi contended is that the Sanhedrin of the mashiach era will institute a celebration to commemorate the wondrous events that transpire, and will presumably institute the recitation of a beracha similar in structure to the beracha that we make immediately prior to drinking the second cup of wine at the Seder, which closes with the words ga’al Yisrael. In addition, the Sanhedrin will, presumably, make the day of mashiach’s arrival into a Yom Tov that will be celebrated with the beracha of shehecheyanu, just as we recite this beracha to commemorate every Yom Tov.

Six berachos

Thus, we now have a total of six berachos to recite when mashiach arrives:

(1) hatov vehameitiv when we hear of his arrival;

(2) matziv gvul almanah, each time we see a newly reconstructed shul or Beis Medrash, and when we see the Beis HaMikdash;

(3) chacham harazim, upon seeing 600,000 or more Jews assembled;

(4, 5, 6) when we actually see mashiach, we will recite three berachos: shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, shechalak mikevodo lirei’av and shehecheyanu. In what order should we recite these last three berachos?

I believe that the following Gemara[xix] demonstrates that shehecheyanu should be the last of this triad:

“Rav Pappa and Rav Huna, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, were traveling when they met Rav Chanina, the son of Rabbi Ikka. They told him, ‘when we see you, we recite two berachos: asher chalak mei’chachmaso lirei’av and shehecheyanu.’” Thus we see that shehecheyanu is recited after the other berachos.

Which beracha is recited first?

Having resolved earlier that we will recite two different berachos, shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av and shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, which of these berachos is recited first?

I found no reference made by any posek concerning this question. On the one hand, perhaps one can demonstrate that the beracha on a talmid chacham is first, since we have a general rule that mamzer talmid chacham kodem lekohen gadol am ha’aretz, a mamzer who is a Torah scholar is given more honor than a kohen gadol who is boorish.[xx] On the other hand, the Gemara[xxi] cites a dispute between the prophet Yeshaya and King Chizkiyahu as to whether a king commands more respect than a prophet or vice versa. The Gemara implies that the king commands more respect. Thus, one could infer that the beracha relating to mashiach being king should be recited before the beracha on his being a talmid chacham.

What if I can’t see the mashiach?

Now a practical question:

What if you cannot actually see mashiach because of the large throngs that are there, but you know that he is in front of you. Do you recite these berachos anyway?

Two texts, two opinions

It would seem that whether one recites these berachos under such circumstances depends on a dispute among authorities, which is, in turn, dependent on two versions of a passage of Gemara:[xxii]

Version #1: Rav Sheisheis, who was blind, joined others who went to see the king. When the king arrived, Rav Sheisheis began reciting the blessing.

According to this version, Rav Sheisheis recited the beracha for seeing the king, although he could not and did not see him. Thus, someone may recite this beracha to Hashem for “seeing” (i. e., feeling) the honor that the king receives, even though he does not actually see the king himself.[xxiii]

However, there is another version of this text, which reads as follows:

Rav Sheisheis, who was blind, joined others who went to see the king. When the king arrived, Rav Sheisheis began blessing the king.

What is the difference between the two versions? According to the second version, Rav Sheisheis blessed the king, meaning he gave him an appropriate greeting, but there is no evidence that he recited the beracha on seeing a king, since he could not see him. It is very likely that one may not recite these two berachos unless one actually sees a king or a talmid chacham; it is insufficient just to be aware of his presence.[xxiv]

Conclusion

In conclusion, there may a total of as many as eight special berachos to recite when mashiach arrives, in the following order.

  1. When we first hear from a reliable source the good news of mashiach’s arrival, we will recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam hatov vehameitiv.
  2. When we see the huge throngs of Jews assembled to greet him, which will no doubt number at least 600,000 people, we will recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam chacham harazim.”
  3. When we see the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash or rebuilt shullen or Batei Medrash, one should recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam matziv gvul almanah.” Theoretically, one might recite this beracha before the beracha chacham harazim, if one sees the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash before one sees the huge throngs.
  4. When we actually see the mashiach, we will recite “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av.”
  5. Immediately after reciting this beracha, we will recite the beracha “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av.” According to some poskim, one may recite these last two berachos when aware that mashiach is nearby, even if one cannot see him.
  6. When one actually sees mashiach, one should recite shehecheyanu.
  7. -8. According to Rav Chayim Felaggi, a Yom Tov will be established to commemorate mashiach’s arrival, and on that holiday we will again recite shehecheyanu, and a longer beracha mentioning some of the details of the miraculous events of his arrival. This beracha will close with the words Baruch Attah Hashem ga’al Yisrael.

Now that we have completed our discussion and review of these halachos, let us daven hard that we soon have the opportunity to recite these berachos!

 

[i]  Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 11

[ii] Rashi, Sukkah 41a; Yerushalmi, Maaser Sheini 5:2 and Meleches Shelomoh ad loc.

[iii]  Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 12

[iv]  Berachos 58a

[v] Berachos 58a; Tur and Shulchan Aruch 224; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 10:11, who records a different text for these brachos

[vi] Avudraham, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 224

[vii] Minchas Shelomoh 1:91:27

[viii] Shu’t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah (2:237)

[ix] Berachos 58a

[x] Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 224:5

[xi] Rashi Berachos 58a

[xii] Berachos 58b and Tosafos ad loc.

[xiii] Berachos 54a

[xiv] Berachos 59b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 222:1

[xv] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:3, 5

[xvi] Berachos 58b

[xvii] Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 224; Maharsha, Berachos 58b; Shu’t Har Tzvi #84; cf. Magen Avraham 224:8

[xviii]  Shu’t Lev Chayim 2:42

[xix] Berachos 58b

[xx] Mishnah, Horiyos 13a

[xxi] Berachos 10a

[xxii] Berachos 58a

[xxiii] Magen Avraham 224:6

[xxiv] Elyah Rabbah 224:6

Understanding the Prohibition of Avodah Zarah

As there are several references to the prohibition of Avodah Zarah in this week’s parsha, we present:

Understanding the Prohibition of Avodah Zarah

Question #1: Defining Idols

Many people ask: “Are idol worship and Avodah Zarah the same thing?”

Question #2: The Only G-d

Rav Efrayim discusses: “May a gentile accept ideas that we consider Avodah Zarah, providing that he believes in G-d?”

Question #3: Nothing but G-d

Rav Moshe asks: “If all mankind is required to believe in one G-d, why do we say Shma Yisroel, that Hashem is One. Shouldn’t we say Shma Bnei Odom…?”

Introduction:

The most basic belief underlying our observance of Torah is that Hashem is the Creator of the world and the ongoing Director of all that transpires. He does not delegate authority to anyone or anything else, and we are to pray only to Him.

Idol worship vs. Avodah Zarah

Are idol worship and Avodah Zarah the same thing? The question, as phrased, is almost meaningless, since it does not define what is meant by idol worship. Truthfully, most people do not understand the extent of the prohibition of Avodah Zarah. They think that Avodah Zarah is limited to believing that some force other than Hashem decides our destiny. However, the prohibition of Avodah Zarah is far more encompassing. To quote the Rambam: “In the days of Enosh, mankind committed a major mistake…. This was their error: They said that, since G-d created the stars and the other cosmic forces with which to run the world, placed them in the heavens, gave them honor and they serve Him, it is appropriate to honor and praise them. They said that this is G-d’s Will – to honor that which honors Him” (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:1). The Rambam proceeds to describe that this was the primary form of Avodah Zarah — not that any of those who worshipped the sun, moon or stars ascribed power to these celestial creations.

“With time, false prophets arose who claimed that G-d had commanded the people to worship specific stars or forces” (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:2). The Rambam explains that this developed into extensive cults. “The primary commandment of Avodah Zarah is to not worship anything that was created, not an angel, not an extraterrestrial force and not a star… even when the worshipper knows that Hashem is the only G-d” (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:1). We see that worshipping or performing any act of reverence to a force other than Hashem is included in Avodah Zarah, even when one accepts that all decisions are made by Him. To explain this further, let us discuss the term shituf.

Shituf

In most contexts, the word shituf is translated as “partnership.” When applied to the prohibition of Avodah Zarah, the term is used to mean worshipping something other than Hashem, even though the individual believes in one G-d Who created the universe. As we just read, the Rambam describes this mode of worship as the primary violation of Avodah Zarah.

There are several ways that one could violate Avodah Zarah through shituf. Above, we described one way: there is nothing wrong with the belief system, but the object being worshipped makes it into an act of Avodah Zarah.

Another form of shituf is the mistaken belief that, although Hashem is indeed the Creator of all, He authorized some other force to make decisions. This constitutes Avodah Zarah. Many religions believe that Hashem created the world, but believe that He delegated authority on some matters to angels or others whom He created. Some religions even believe that He passed authority to humans or to former humans. Any belief that G-d allowed some other entity or force to have a decision in helping or saving mankind is pure Avodah Zarah. Practicing or believing in any of these religions is Avodah Zarah.

Praying

Another way of violating the prohibition of Avodah Zarah through shituf is by directing one’s prayers to something other than Hashem. Even asking an angel to convey my prayers to Hashem qualifies as a very serious prohibition of Avodah Zarah. To quote the Rambam, “Only to G-d is it appropriate to serve, to praise, and to promulgate His greatness and His directives. One may not pray to anything beneath Him, not His angels, not the stars, not the celestial creations, not the elements of creation, nor anything developed from them. All of them are fixed in their deeds and have neither control nor independent free choice, with the exception of G-d. One may not make them intermediaries to use them to contact G-d. All our thoughts must be directed only to G-d, and one should ignore anything else. All this is included under the prohibition of Avodah Zarah. Most of the Torah’s purpose is to command us concerning this” (Rambam, introduction to his commentary on the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin, fifth principle).

This belief comprises the fifth of the thirteen basic beliefs of Judaism, formulated by the Rambam, that Klal Yisroel has accepted as the core belief system of Torah. In the words of the unknown author of the 13 ani maamins, it is structured as: Ani maamin be’emunah sheleimah, shehaborei yisborach shemo lo levado ra’ui lehispallel, ve’ein ra’ui lehispallel lezulaso, “I believe with complete faith that it is appropriate to pray only to the Creator, blessed is He, and that it is inappropriate to pray to anything else.”

Some well-meaning people may be making a serious mistake when they daven at a graveside. To avoid the possibility of inadvertently transgressing the prohibition of Avodah Zarah when visiting a gravesite, one should be careful that all one’s prayers are only to Hashem. (We will leave for a different time the discussion as to whether it is permitted to ask a deceased person to be a guta beter, to pray on our behalf. See, for example, Gesher Hachayim, Volume 1, Chapter 29, Section 9.)

One of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah is a prohibition against causing an oath to be expressed that includes the name of an idol. The Torah says, Vesheim elohim acheirim lo sazkiru, lo yishama al picha, “you may not mention the name of an idol, nor may your mouth allow it to be expressed” (Shemos 23:13).

Chazal understand that this includes a prohibition of swearing an oath mentioning the name of Avodah Zarah. They also understand that this prohibition includes causing an idol worshipper to take an oath, in which he uses the name of his idol. Again, to quote the Rambam, “It is prohibited to include something else together with Hashem’s Name in an oath. Someone who includes something else with Hashem’s Name in an oath is uprooted from the world. There is nothing else in the world that should be given honor” (Hilchos Shavuos 11:2).

Because of this mitzvah, until the modern era, Jews were excluded from holding office in most European countries, because assuming such a position required an oath of office that included a reference to what halacha recognizes as idolatry.

Gentiles

Although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are thousands of gentiles for every Jew in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. Many non-Jews are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, thousands and perhaps millions more would observe the mitzvos of Bnei Noach that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

The prohibition of Avodah Zarah applies not only to Jews, but to any human being walking the face of the earth. One of the mitzvos that bnei Noach are required to observe is a prohibition against worshipping Avodah Zarah. What is included in this prohibition?

On an obvious level, there should be no difference between the prohibition of Avodah Zarah as it applies to gentiles and as it applies to Jews, and this is the understanding of most halachic authorities. This approach is certainly implied by the Rambam, when he introduces the prohibition of Avodah Zarah by saying, “in the days of Enosh, mankind committed a major mistake,” which happened over a thousand years before the Torah was given to Klal Yisroel.

Between Israel and the nations

If, indeed, the prohibition of Avodah Zarah is the same for Jew and gentile, are there any differences between a Jew’s mitzvos regarding G-d’s existence and a gentile’s?

Yes, there are. A Jew has several positive mitzvos that a gentile does not, such as the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, to love Hashem, and the mitzvah of yiras Hashem, to be in awe of Him. In general, the mitzvos of a ben Noach are prohibitions banning him from specific activities, but do not require him to perform any positive acts.

Other mitzvos

Several other laws that pertain to Jews germane to Avodah Zarah, such as the prohibition against entering a house of idol worship, or the prohibition of allowing an Avodah Zarah to be in one’s house, do not apply to bnei Noach.

Similarly, the prohibition of lo yishama al picha, “your mouth shall not cause the name of an idol to be expressed” does not apply to bnei Noach. Thus, they would not be prohibited from taking an oath by the name of something in addition to or other than Hashem.

At this point, let us analyze one of our opening questions: “Rav Efrayim discusses: ‘May a gentile accept ideas that we consider Avodah Zarah, providing that he believes in G-d?’”

The Rav Efrayim we mention was the author of the Shaar Efrayim, Rav Efrayim ben Yaakov Hakohen, one of the great Ashkenazic halachic authorities of the 17th century. He was the grandfather of the Chacham Zvi and the great-grandfather of Rav Yaakov Emden. The Shaar Efrayim was born and raised in Vilna, and became one of the dayanim of the city at the age of 20 in a beis din that included the Chelkas Mechokeik, the Shach and the Birchas Hazevach, Rav Aharon Shemuel Kaidenover. During the upheavals of the period of the Gezerios Tach veTat that destroyed the Jewish communities of Poland and Lithuania, the kingdom of Sweden invaded Lithuania (then under the control of the king of Poland).  During this era, the Shaar Efrayim fled southwestward, finding himself first in Moravia (now in the Czech Republic), then in Vienna and ultimately in Budapest, where he became the rav and opened a large yeshivah. He corresponded with the great poskim of his era, both those of the Ashkenazic world and those of the Sefardic world in Turkey and Eretz Yisroel. Eventually, he was offered and accepted the rabbonus of Yerushalayim, but, unfortunately, died in a plague before he could assume the position.

The question we are addressing, “May a gentile accept ideas that we consider Avodah Zarah, providing that he believes in G-d?” is published in Shaar Efrayim, in the context of the following halachic discussion.

Partnering with a gentile

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 63b; Bechoros 2b) prohibits creating a business partnership with an idol worshipper, because of concern that, should one need to have him make an oath, which was a common procedure in earlier generations, the gentile would swear in the name of his deity. This would cause the Jew to violate the prohibition of lo yishama al picha, “you may not cause the name of an idol to be expressed.” This ruling is codified in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 156).

Medieval gentiles

At the time that the Gemara prohibited creating a partnership with an idol worshipper, most gentiles were pagans. In the course of time, most European gentiles began to follow different religious beliefs and practices that accepted that there is one Creator, but included various other beliefs that qualify as Avodah Zarah. In the time of the rishonim, the following question was raised: Does the prohibition against forming a business partnership apply to a gentile who observes these practices?

Rabbeinu Tam, cited by Tosafos (Sanhedrin 63b s.v. Asur; Bechoros 2b s.v. Shema), ruled that it was permitted to have the gentiles of his day make an oath. The words Tosafos uses to express this idea is that a non-Jew is not commanded concerning shituf. This opinion is quoted authoritatively by the Rema (Orach Chayim 156). The question is, what did Tosafos mean?

Some authorities understood Tosafos to mean that shituf is not included in the ben Noach’s prohibition against worshipping idols (Olas Tamid, Orach Chayim 156). This interpretation understands that although the Torah is strongly opposed to any recognition or worship of any force other than Hashem, this aspect of Avodah Zarah was not included in the mitzvah that bnei Noach were commanded.

However, most authorities rule that this is a misunderstanding of Tosafos. In their opinion, there is no difference between Jews and non-Jews regarding the prohibition of idol worship. Any belief in another power that shares power or decision-making is a form of idolatry. It is also forbidden for a gentile to worship or pray to anything other than Hashem, even with the understanding that this object of worship is only an emissary of G-d.

According to the more accepted approach, Tosafos means the following: It is true that the gentiles in his day believed in ideas that qualify as Avodah Zarah. In addition, they prayed to their saints, whom they believed had a power to sway how G-d would treat them. When they swore oaths, they would include the name of the saint and the name of G-d. Tosafos rules that causing a gentile to swear an oath in which he mentions the name of a saint does not violate the Torah’s prohibition of lo yishama al picha, since the gentiles, themselves, view the saint only as a means to get Divine help, but not as a source of help himself. They did not consider their saints to be deities.

Furthermore, although the gentiles have strange idolatrous notions defining and understanding the nature of G-d, causing them to swear an oath in G-d’s Name does not violate lo yishama al picha, since the name of the idol is not mentioned. Even though they think of their idol, they don’t mention his name in their oath. Therefore, the Jew does not violate any prohibition when the gentile takes an oath (Shu”t Shaar Efrayim #24; Shu”t Mahara Sasson #95; Shu”t Meil Tzedaka #22; Machatzis Hashekel 156:2).

Stumbling blocks

Thus far, we have explained why Tosafos holds that when a gentile swears, the Jew does not violate lo yishama al picha. However, there is another halachic question: If a gentile must observe Avodah Zarah exactly as does a Jew, are we not causing the gentile to violate his prohibition of Avodah Zarah? This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this context, the verse means: Do not cause someone to sin if he is blind to – i.e., he is unaware of – the seriousness of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b). This mitzvah applies also to a Jew who causes a gentile to transgress his mitzvos.

Lifnei iveir and swearing

The Ran (end of the first chapter of Avodah Zarah) explains that there is no violation of lifnei iveir, since the ben Noach’s prohibition not to worship idols does not include a prohibition of swearing in the name of an idol. Thus, although a gentile may not serve Avodah Zarah, he is permitted to take an oath of allegiance to an idol in which he does not believe. A result of the Ran’s ruling would be that, in a country in which swearing allegiance to the local religion is a requirement for holding public office, a ben Noach would be permitted to swear this oath.

Shma Yisroel

Having concluded that a non-Jew is required to believe that there is only one G-d, we are left with a question based on a posuk that we recite several times every day: Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. Why does the Torah say Shma Yisroel, when all non-Jews are prohibited from worshipping idols and from practicing shituf (see Maharam Shik’s commentary on Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 418)?

This is the third question we asked above. Rav Moshe asks: “If all mankind is required to believe in one G-d, why do we say Shma Yisroel, that Hashem is one. Shouldn’t we say Shma Bnei Odom…

The Rav Moshe that I am quoting is Rav Moshe Shik, the Maharam Shik, who was the posek hador of the mid-nineteenth century in Hungary.

There are several answers one can give to explain this. I will share with you an answer that the Maharam Shik himself provides: The mitzvah of Shma Yisroel is that Jews are required to believe in one G-d because of the mesorah we have from our forefathers of the miracles that we saw at Har Sinai and in Egypt, and not because of logic. A gentile is permitted to believe in G-d even if his belief is only on the basis of his having been convinced through logic. Thus, Isaac Newton, who believed in G-d because His creation proves it, fulfilled the requirements of belief in G-d required of a gentile. However, Albert Einstein, who was Jewish and also believed in G-d because His creation proved it, but rejected the mesorah, did not fulfill the mitzvah of Shma Yisroel.

 

Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

In Parshas Eikev, the Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for the Jewish people. Would he have been permitted to do this on Shabbos? And would he have been permitted to pray for the needs of an individual on Shabbos, or perhaps just for the entire community?

Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

Question # 1: Harachaman Hullabaloo

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

Question #2: The Monotonous Mishebeirach Mode

Iam Impatient calls me with the following question: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

Question #3: Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?

Question #4: On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening when everyone is still in shul?”

Answer:

In several places, the Gemara mentions that one may not pray for individual needs on Shabbos (e.g., Taanis 19a; Bava Basra 91a; Yerushalmi, Shabbos, 15:3). At least two reasons are quoted for this prohibition. Some sources include it under what the Navi Yeshaya (58:13) commanded when he declared, Vechibadto mei’asos derachecha mimetzo cheftzecha vedabeir davar, “You shall honor the Shabbos by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:16; Rashba, Shabbos 113a). This proscription is usually simply called dabeir davar.

A second opinion

Others prohibit praying for personal requests on Shabbos because it violates one’s oneg Shabbos. Praying for personal needs causes one to focus on what troubles him, which leads a person to be sorrowful (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 30:12 and Ran, Shabbos, Rif page 5b). Shabbos is to be a day of joy.

According to both reasons, dabeir davar and oneg Shabbos, we now understand why, on Motza’ei Shabbos, we insert the passage atah chonantanu, which is a declaration of havdalah ending Shabbos, in the fourth brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is the first of the weekday brachos. The reason is that we may not recite the middle brachos of the shemoneh esrei until we have recited havdalah (Yerushalmi, Brachos end of 5:2; Shu”t HaRashba #739; Magen Avraham 294:1). Someone who forgot to recite atah chonantanu and realizes while in the middle of shemoneh esrei may continue the shemoneh esrei, but should not add any personal supplications to his prayer. The reason for this ruling will be explained shortly.

“Provide us, sustain us…”

If personal supplications are prohibited on Shabbos, how can we say in our bensching the personal requests to Hashem “Provide us, sustain us…”? The same question exists in many of the prayers that we recite on Shabbos, such as the Yehi ratzon prayer we recite at the end of the morning birchos hashachar. How are we permitted to recite this prayer on Shabbos?

This question is asked in the Gemara Yerushalmi, which I quote:

We learned: It is prohibited to pray for one’s needs on Shabbos. Rabbi Ze’eira asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, “When reciting the bensching, may one say ‘Tend to us, provide us with livelihood’ [re’einu, zuneinu, in the third brocha]?” Rabbi Chiya bar Abba answered him that this is permitted because this is the standard structure of the brocha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 15:3).

Thus, the Yerushalmi introduces a new idea: that something that is a standard part of a tefillah or brocha may be recited on Shabbos, a concept called tofeis brocha. For this reason, we do not modify the words of bensching or the other brachos that we usually recite.

What is the logic behind permitting tofeis brocha? This is still a request that should be prohibited for one of the two reasons mentioned above.

I found three interpretations to explain why we may recite a prayer that is included in a tofeis brocha.

I. Distorted brachos

The Korban HaEidah, one of the primary commentaries on the Yerushalmi, explains that tofeis brocha is permitted because of concern that changing the wording on Shabbos might cause one to get confused and recite the entire brocha incorrectly.

II. Changing the nusach

The Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) explains the reason for tofeis brocha is because one does not change a text established by Chazal. Thus, the prohibition against making personal requests on Shabbos never applied to standard texts. The Rivash then extends this idea even to selichos and piyutim – and it is for this reason that when we recite these passages on Shabbos that falls on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we recite the exact same text as we do when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on a weekday.

III. Familiarity breeds content

Others provide yet a third reason to explain why one may recite a supplication that is incorporated in a tofeis brocha: something that one says regularly does not cause him suffering (Kuntrus Bakashos BeShabbos page 3, quoting Yafeh Mareh and Atares Paz 1:2:2). This approach assumes that the reason we may not pray for personal supplications on Shabbos is not because of the takkanah of dabeir davar but only because of the reason of oneg Shabbos.

Harachaman Hullabaloo

At this point, we can already discuss the first question raised above:

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

No, you are in good company, together with many well-respected poskim. The Mishnah Berurah (188:9) rules that one may recite the harachamans on Shabbos – they are also considered tofeis brachos.

Some authorities extend the lenience of tofeis brocha considerably, ruling that the prohibition against reciting supplications on Shabbos applies only to a prayer that one constructs oneself, but does not apply to any standardized prayer (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Orach Chayim 2:46).

Pikuach nefesh

Aside from the situation of tofeis brachos, there is another case when one may recite personal supplications on Shabbos, and that is when the situation is one of pikuach nefesh, life-threatening emergency. Just as saving lives supersedes Shabbos and most mitzvos of the Torah, so one is permitted to pray for deliverance when faced by an immediate life-threatening emergency. For example, the Mishnah (Taanis 19a) teaches that one prays on Shabbos that Hashem save the people when a city is surrounded by invaders, when a river overflows, or when a boat is floundering at sea.

The same is true for an individual.  Just as pikuach nefesh of an individual supersedes Shabbos, so, too, praying for an individual’s deliverance in a life-threatening circumstance supersedes Shabbos when it is a sakanas hayom – a circumstance that presents an immediate, life-threatening emergency (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 288:9, 10). Therefore, if someone is very seriously ill and his life is in immediate danger, we say Tehillim and pray on his behalf, even on Shabbos. However, if the person is seriously ill but not in immediate danger, we do not say Tehillim for him on Shabbos, but wait until after Shabbos. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah (288:28) rules that a woman giving birth or a woman who gave birth within the past week are both considered sakanas hayom, and one may pray for them on Shabbos.

Out-of-town ill

Is one permitted to daven on Shabbos for an ill person who is not in his city? Why does it make a difference where the ill person is?

Some authorities contend that since one does not know if his condition is a sakanas hayom, these prayers might be desecrating Shabbos unnecessarily (Maharil cited by Machatzis HaShekel 288:14). The accepted practice follows those who permit these prayers, considering them a safek pikuach nefesh (Nachalas Shivah).

Can I get rid of all those mishebeirachs?

At this point, let us examine a different one of our opening questions.

Iam Impatient asked: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

I mentioned above the dispute as to whether the prohibition of personal supplications on Shabbos is because of the law of dabeir davar, meaning that one should not discuss this-worldly matters on Shabbos, or it is because of oneg Shabbos — praying for personal needs may cause one to become sorrowful. Is there any difference in halachah between the two reasons?

Indeed, there are some differences in halachah that result from this disagreement. One dispute that results is germane to whether one may recite a mishebeirach for an ill person on Shabbos. The standard text for this mishebeirach when recited on a weekday includes a short prayer that the ill person should have a complete recovery. Logically, it should be prohibited to recite this on Shabbos, since it is a private request. Yet, some early authorities rule that when the ill person is not nearby, one may recite these mishebeirachs on Shabbos, reasoning that one does not become sorrowful when reciting a mishebeirach for someone not present (responsum of Rav Yaakov Beirav, in Shu”t Avkas Rocheil #11). This line of reasoning assumes that the prohibition of praying for personal requests on Shabbos is because it causes suffering.

However, several other authorities prohibit reciting a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos, expressly stating that it is forbidden because of dabeir davar (She’ei’las Yaavetz #64; Gra”z, Orach Chayim 288:9). The She’ei’las Yaavetz prohibits reciting a mishebeirach for the ill on Shabbos except for a choleh who is in the category of sakanas hayom. He also prohibits reciting these mishebeirachs for an additional reason that will make Iam happy: Yaavetz contends that they are prohibited because they inconvenience the community by delaying the services (tircha de’tzibura).

A compromise position rules that one may recite a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos provided that one modifies the text, and instead of closing with a prayer for a swift recovery, one blesses the ill person, and then makes a statement that on Shabbos we are not permitted to cry out, but recovery is soon to come (Magen Avraham 288:14).

The prevalent custom in most places today follows the last approach, and that is why, in many shullen, mishebeirachs are recited for the ill even when it is not a sakanas hayom. Of course, this ruling, which is probably the practice in Iam’s shul, is what is upsetting Iam.

Some authorities add an additional factor in favor of the reciting of the mishebeirach: it is considered a special merit to pray for someone during, or immediately after, the reading of the Torah. To quote the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:12): “If one has a family member who is ill… the custom is to pray in shul during kerias haTorah for those who are sick, for then Divine Compassion is aroused.”

In answer to what is the best thing to do, I refer to a responsum of an earlier authority, the Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) on a related topic: whether one should recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuvah and Yom Kippur. After noting the different customs that he saw in several communities, and explaining the reasons why reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos does or does not violate the prohibition against reciting personal requests on Shabbos, he concludes that one should follow the prevalent local custom. Similarly, regarding whether one recites a mishebeirach on Shabbos, he should follow established community or shul custom.

May I pray for personal spiritual requests?

The Mishnah Berurah (288:22) permits praying on Shabbos for spiritual help or for any other request that is not a result of difficult circumstances. It seems that this should be permitted according to both reasons mentioned above. According to the first reason, one should not pray on Shabbos about one’s own needs, but spiritual needs are Hashem’s realm. According to the second reason, most people do not become saddened regarding their spiritual failings and “troubles.”

Based on the above, on Shabbos one may recite the prayer of Rav Nechunia ben Hakanah requesting divine assistance for one’s Torah learning (Halichos Shlomoh, 14:11).

Yom Tov versus Shabbos

Does the prohibition against requesting personal supplications apply only on Shabbos, or does it apply equally on Yom Tov? This topic is discussed by the halachic authorities in a variety of places.

The Magen Avraham (128:70) notes that although the custom among Ashkenazim outside Eretz Yisroel is to duchen only on Yom Tov, some communities do not duchen when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos. He suggests the reason for this practice is because the members of the congregation recite the prayer for bad dreams when the kohanim duchen, and that, if the kohanim duchen on Shabbos, people will say this prayer on Shabbos, which violates the prohibition against reciting personal supplications. The Magen Avraham states that there is no concern with reciting this prayer on Yom Tov, notwithstanding the fact that it qualifies as a personal supplication. Although he certainly agrees that one may not recite personal supplications on Yom Tov, he rallies evidence that there is a difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos regarding the severity of this prohibition. After all, we omit reciting the prayer Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbos, yet we have no problem with reciting Avinu Malkeinu when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday. We could similarly demonstrate this difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos from the fact that we recite certain personal requests and the 13 midos of Hashem when we take out the sefer Torah on Yom Tov, but refrain from reciting these prayers when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 576:12) implies that there is no difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos – that personal requests are prohibited equally on both days, a position reiterated by other later authorities (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim 2:46). It appears that Ashkenazim and Sefardim differ as to the accepted position. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Magen Avraham and are more lenient on Yom Tov, whereas Sefardim are stricter about reciting personal requests on Yom Tov.

Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

At this point, I would like to address the third question asked above: “Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?”

To answer this question, I refer to a responsum on a related topic from Rav Moshe Feinstein.

On the last day of Pesach, someone who was seriously ill, but not a sakanas yom, requested that the members of a shul pray on his behalf. They then recited a few chapters of Tehillim on his behalf and recited the appropriate prayer. After Yom Tov, they were able to ask Rav Moshe whether they had done the correct thing.

Rav Moshe ruled that although this was not a sakanas yom, since the ill person himself had requested that they pray on his behalf, and he was in a situation of general pikuach nefesh, it was proper that they prayed on his behalf. Although ordinarily one may not pray on someone’s behalf if it is not a sakanas yom, in this situation we do pray on his behalf out of concern that he would become upset, which could aggravate his precarious condition. This concept is called shelo titrof daato, that the ill person should not become distressed, and is used in several different halachic contexts.

However, Rav Moshe notes, this ruling applies only when the ill person himself made the request. If family members ask that people pray on his behalf on Shabbos, one should not accede to their request, if it is not a case of sakanas yom (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:105).

At this point, I would like to refer to the last question I raised above: “On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening, when everyone is still in shul?”

The answer to the question is that since there is no sakanas hayom here and the ill person himself was not the source of the request, one should not say Tehillim and daven for him until after Shabbos.

Conclusion

The words of Yeshaya that include the words dabeir davar are read as part of the haftarah that we recite on Yom Kippur. There the Navi concludes “If you remove your internal yoke from yourself, pointing fingers at one another and evil speech… then Hashem will always guide you… if you refrain from doing your matters on My holy day… you honor it by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them. Then you will delight with Hashem and I will mount you on the highest places on Earth. I will feed you the heritage of your father Yaakov, for Hashem has spoken.”

 

Dishes, Detergent and Malachos

The Aseres Hadibros include the mitzvah of Shabbos, providing the opportunity to continue our discussion from parshas Pinchas.

Dishes, Detergent and Malachos

Question #1: Washing dishes

“Whenever I ask my son to help wash the dishes on Shabbos, he claims that it is prohibited. Is he pulling my leg in his attempt to avoid family responsibilities?”

Question #2: No detergent

“Is it prohibited to wash clothes on Shabbos if I do not use detergent?”

Question #3: Six in one!

Can six people consecutively launder a garment?

Three weeks ago, we began our discussion about the melacha of melabein. We learned that there is a dispute among rishonim whether this melacha should be defined as laundering or as bleaching, although in practical terms, the halachos remain the same either way, and it is prohibited min haTorah to launder or to bleach on Shabbos. We also discovered that there are numerous ways that one can violate this melacha, such as by soaking, scrubbing, wringing, or rinsing, and, according to some authorities,  even by brushing a garment. At this point, we will continue our discussion where we left off.

Washing dishes

There is no prohibition of melabein for soaking, scouring, or cleaning a hard substance such as wood or metal. This is because the grime lies on top of the material and is not absorbed inside or between the fibers. This is the reason why it is permitted to wash dishes on Shabbos, provided that one does not squeeze a cloth or something similar in the process.

One may explain the difference between fabrics, that are included in the melacha of melabein, and hard substances that are not, in the following way. All melachos involve changing an object to make it more useful for mankind. In the instance of most melachos, this involves some type of physical or chemical change to the object upon which the melacha is performed. Regarding some melachos, such as trapping, carrying and selecting, no real physical or chemical change occurs in the item, but there is a difference in utility. The undomesticated animal was useless to mankind, and trapping made it available for mankind. Prior to removing the bad part of the item, one could not eat or use this food, and selecting made it useful. In carrying, the most difficult of the melachos to explain conceptually, the item is made useful by changing its location.

By the way, if we remember the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam that I mentioned earlier, the approach of the Rambam allows an easier explanation why washing dishes is not included under the melacha. According to the Rambam, the av melacha is bleaching, or changing the color of the fiber or fabric. All laundering changes the inherent appearance of the cloth, and, in this way, the toladah, laundering, is similar to the av melacha, bleaching. However, dirt on top of a plate does not change the inherent appearance of the plate – one merely needs to scrape off the leftover food on its surface, and the plate is clean. This contrasts with laundering cloth, where the dirt is embedded in the fiber.

All or nothing?

Does one violate melabein only if one performs all of the above-prohibited activities (soaking, scrubbing, wringing, and rinsing), or even if one performs any one of them? A ramification of the second approach is that cleaning an item only a bit violates melabein, despite the fact that the garment is still dirty.

The halacha is that each of these stages constitutes infringements of melabein min haTorah, and this is true even if one does not add any detergent to the water. In other words, although one ordinarily uses detergent to launder clothes, and without detergent the clothes are usually not clean, since performing each of the above-mentioned laundering steps does clean the garment a little bit, that is sufficient to contravene the Torah law of melabein.

Six in one

Thus, theoretically six different people could each be doing a different activity to a garment or cloth, each one violating the melacha of melabein min haTorah! The first one brushes the garment, removing some of the dirt. The second one places the garment in a bucket to soak it. The third one scrubs the garment on a scouring board; the fourth squeezes water out of the garment; the fifth rinses the garment clean; and the sixth bleaches the now clean garment.

Cleaning versus cooking

Since the halacha is that each of the laundering stages constitutes a Torah violation of melabein, we are faced with an interesting contrast between the melacha of melabein and that of cooking. The halacha is that someone who began cooking food, but the food is not yet cooked to the point where it is edible, has not yet violated the melacha min haTorah, but only a rabbinic injunction. Violating the melacha min haTorah requires that the food is cooked enough to make it edible. Yet, soaking an item of clothing contravenes the prohibition of laundering, even though removing it from the water without any other cleaning process may still leave the garment too soiled to wear. Why is there a difference between laundering, which one violates even if the item is still not fully clean, and cooking, which one violates only when the item is cooked?

The answer appears to be that cooking an item to the point that it is still inedible does not benefit mankind, since no one will eat it. On the other hand, although most people do not enjoy wearing dirty clothing, it is more pleasant to wear clothes that are somewhat laundered than clothes that are completely filthy. In other words, although laundering something a little bit made the item cleaner, cooking it a little bit did not make it edible.

According to the Rambam’s approach in the dispute over the definition of melabein, the distinction between laundering and cooking is more easily understood. The av melacha, in his opinion, is bleaching, which means that the basic melacha is changing the coloring, not cleaning it. Laundering is a toladah because it changes the appearance of the cloth. Thus, each stage of melabein changes the appearance of the cloth, which is the nature of the melacha.

Wringing versus stirring

At this point, we should discuss the following interesting phenomenon. When discussing the prohibition of wringing laundry on Shabbos, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:11) states the following: “One who wrings out a garment until he extracts the water that is absorbed inside it desecrates Shabbos for laundering, since wringing is necessary (mitzorchei) for laundering just as stirring is necessary (mitzorchei) for cooking.”

This is certainly an unusual statement. Why does the Rambam need to compare wringing water to stirring food in order to explain why it is prohibited on Shabbos? And, the Rambam uses a very interesting term to describe this relationship — the word mitzorchei, which he uses in only three contexts in his entire thirty chapters of the laws of Shabbos. Aside from using this term here to describe wringing laundry and stirring food, he uses it also in the context of meleches tofeir (Hilchos Shabbos 10:9 and Magid Mishnah, Kesef Mishneh, and Mirkeves Hamishneh ad locum; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 340 and Elyah Rabbah 340:14)  .

Perhaps one could say that since wringing out water looks different from other laundering acts, one might think that it is not prohibited under the heading of this melacha. However, this is probably not what was bothering the Rambam. My proof is that there are many other melacha activities that do not look like the av melacha under which they are listed. For example, weeding is prohibited min haTorah because it is an aspect of plowing, notwithstanding that weeding does not look at all like plowing. It violates plowing because weeding prepares the ground to allow growth, which is the same concept involved when plowing. Similarly, pruning trees is prohibited as a subheading of planting. Although pruning appears to be the exact opposite of planting, since it is a method of having vines and trees grow better it is included under planting. In these instances, a melacha is performed because the goals of pruning and weeding are respectively similar to planting and plowing. Thus, we see that melacha prohibitions are often categorized by their purpose.Yet, in these instances, the Rambam finds no need to compare weeding or pruning to stirring, nor does he use the word tzorchei to describe what they do.

A possible approach to explain the Rambam is that both wringing and stirring are done after the basic melacha has already been performed. If you are stirring a cooking pot, someone already placed a pot of food on a fire, thereby violating the melacha of cooking. The Rambam is pointing out that stirring a pot is a full violation of cooking on Shabbos – and that we do not mitigate liability for this act on the basis that someone else already performed the actions necessary to cook this food.

Similarly, a person can wring out clothes only when someone else already soaked them in water – which, in and of itself, constitutes laundering according to halacha. Thus, one might contend that the wringer did not violate the melacha (Nimla Tal, meleches melabein #18; meleches tofeir #26).

Separate melacha

Heretofore, we have been assuming that wringing out clothes, socheit, is a subcategory of melabein. Actually, there is a dispute among tana’im concerning this matter. Indeed, most tana’im, including the anonymous author of the Mishnah, consider squeezing to be not its own melacha but a toladah of one of the other 39 melachos listed in the seventh perek of mishnayos Shabbos. (According to most rishonim, this violates the melacha of laundering, whereas the Ramban [Shabbos 111a, as understood by the Magen Avraham end of chapter 302 and Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #159:20] explains that it violates the melacha of dyeing; cf. Lechem Mishneh, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11, who understands that the Ramban agrees with the other rishonim that it is prohibited because of melabein.) However, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, contends that squeezing is a completely separate av melacha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2), although it is not explained in halachic sources why he feels this way. (Nimla Tal Melabein #24 suggests some possible approaches.) The Gemara notes that the Mishnah disagrees with Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, since, according to him, there are forty melachos, and the Mishnah counts only 39.

39 or 40?

But wait one moment! I thought there were 39 melachos. How can a tanna have 40 melachos?

The answer to this question lies in a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 49b) that says as follows:

What is the basis upon which it has been established that there are 39 melachos? …Rabbi Yehonasan, the son of Rabbi Elazar, told them, “This is what Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabbi Yosi ben Lekunia, said: ‘They correspond to the thirty-nine times that the word melacha is written in the Torah!’” Rav Yosef then asked, “Is the pasuk (Bereishis 39:11, regarding Yosef), Vayavo habaysa laasos melachto, included in the count or not?” To this, Abayei replied, “Let us bring a sefer Torah and count how many times the word melacha is mentioned in the Torah.” Rav Yosef replied that Abayei had misunderstood his query. Rav Yosef knew that the word melacha shows up in the Torah a total of forty times. When the tanna’im use the word melacha to count melachos, they are counting only instances when the word melacha in the Torah actually refers to work being performed. Rav Yosef’s question was whether the count of the Shabbos melachos included the pasuk regarding Yosef (which may be using the word melacha in a borrowed sense), or whether that pasuk was not included in the count, but instead they were counting a different pasuk, the one that concludes the construction of the Mishkan, which reads, Vehamelacha hoyso dayom. In the latter pasuk, also, the word melacha does not really mean work, but means the materials assembled for the work of the Mishkan. The tanna of the Mishnah, who counts only 39 melachos, felt that one of these places should not be included in the count of the melachos regarding the laws of Shabbos. The Gemara there remains unresolved which of these two pesukim is included in that count and which not. However, it is quite clear that the tanna quoted in the Yerushalmi, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, counted both pesukim, thus reaching a total of 40 melachos.

At this point, let us return to our opening questions:

Question #1: Washing dishes

“Whenever I ask my son to help wash the dishes on Shabbos, he claims that it is prohibited. Is he pulling my leg in his attempt to avoid family responsibilities?”

Washing dishes on Shabbos is certainly permitted, as long as one does not use an item that might involve squeezing. (Details of that question we will leave for a different time.)  It is safe to assume that your son’s motivation here is not halacha but laziness.

Question #2: No detergent

“Is it prohibited to wash clothes on Shabbos if I do not use detergent?”

As we now know, one can violate the prohibition of melabein min haTorah without use of detergent.

Question #3: Six in one!

Can six people consecutively launder a garment?

The simple answer is, “Yes.”

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos, in order for it to be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions which bring purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation, by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).

 

Where Do I Toivel My Keilim?

Since this is the parsha in which the mitzvah of tevilas keilim is taught, we ask:

Where Do I Toivel My Keilim?

Question #1: Gently in the stream

“Where I live, there is no mikveh that can be used for immersing new cutlery. May I dip the flatware in a local stream?”

Question #2: Make my own mikveh

“Alternatively, how difficult is it to make my own keilim mikveh?”

Question #3: Tap water mikveh

“If I make my own mikveh, may I use regular tap water exclusively?”

Background:

Metal and glass food implements that were previously owned by a gentile must be immersed in a spring or a mikveh prior to using them (Avodah Zarah 75b). I have written articles in the past on many of the halachos of this mitzvah. However, I have never written on the questions pertaining to where one may immerse these implements, so that will be the topic of this article. As always, the discussion here is not intended to provide final halachic guidance – that is for one’s rav or posek. The purpose of this article is to provide halachic background.

In many communities, a local keilim mikveh exists that was built under rabbinic supervision to expedite observance of this mitzvah. However, not all communities have such a facility, forcing people to seek alternative arrangements. Also, at times a person is traveling and needs to immerse some items that he has just acquired to use on the trip. May one use a nearby stream for this purpose? This is one of the questions we will be addressing in this article.

Introduction:

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own highly detailed laws. Although people or items contaminated by some of the more severe types of tumah, such as tumas meis or tzaraas, require other steps prior to immersion to become tahor (spiritually clean), the common denominator to remove all types of tumah is the requirement to immerse them in water. This means submerging the entire tamei person or item at one time, either in a spring or in a mikveh. (As we will see shortly, one category of tamei person, a zav, can become tahor only by immersion in a spring, not in a mikveh, and only in a spring whose water is potable.)

Conversion and tevilas keilim

In addition to purification from tumah, there are two other instances that require immersion in order to create sanctity. Someone converting to Judaism completes the process by immersing in a spring or mikveh. Similarly, a metal or glass food utensil previously owned by a gentile requires immersion when it is acquired by a Jewish person (see Talmud Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 5:15; Issur Vaheter 58:76; Ritva, Avodah Zarah 75b).

Ma’ayan versus mikveh

There are two types of water that can be used for these required ablutions. One is a natural spring that runs from underground, which is called a ma’ayan in Hebrew. The other type is a mikveh consisting of rainwater.

There are several halachic differences between a ma’ayan and a mikveh. As I mentioned before, although the immersion for virtually all types of tumah may be performed either in a mikveh or in a spring, the Torah specifies that one type of tumah, zav, becomes tahor only via immersion in a spring consisting of potable water (Mikva’os 1:8). There are two other halachos where use of drinkable spring water is essential. The ashes of a parah adumah must be mixed into spring water for its purification to be valid, and the purification of a metzora that involves two birds requires the use of spring water. In both of the latter instances, a small amount of spring water is drawn into a vessel to facilitate the procedure.

For the purposes of the rest of our article, we will focus on a different, critical distinction that exists between a mikveh and a ma’ayan. Whereas a spring can make things tahor even when its water is flowing, a mikveh’s water must be stationary for it to make people or items tahor. Even a leak in a mikveh could invalidate it; one should consult a rav for guideline as to when a leak is severe enough to nullify the mikveh.

Snow

We should also note that snow is treated like rain, and that, therefore, snow, or the water that results when snow melts, can be used for immersion only when it is stationary. We will soon learn of a major halachic ramification that results from this information.

Minimal mikveh

The minimal quantity of water required for a mikveh is 40 sa’ah, which Chazal say is the amount required for someone to immerse fully and properly at one time. There are many opinions how much this equals in contemporary measures of volume. Accepted practice is to construct mikva’os that are far larger than halachah requires, even when building a mikveh that is meant only for keilim.

Mekabeil tumah

An essential requirement is that nothing that can become tamei may be part of the mikveh, may move the water into the mikveh or may be used to keep its water stationary. This means that the piping used to transport the rainwater to the mikveh must not be susceptible to become tamei, and that no part of the mikveh itself be made of anything that is mekabeil tumah. Therefore, if a mikveh has a plug somewhere, it may not be made of material that is susceptible to tumah.

To apply this halachah, we need to define what it means that something is mekabeil tumah. Usually, it means that the item has been fashioned in a way that it is now considered to be a “vessel” or a “utensil.” Most vessels that can hold a liquid qualify as mekabeil tumah, although the term mekabeil tumah is not restricted to such utensils. For example, a metal plug is mekabeil tumah and therefore cannot be used as a stopper in a mikveh. If a mikveh requires a stopper, a rubber plug is used, since this is an item that is not susceptible to tumah. A full treatment of the topic of what is mekabeil tumah is beyond the parameters of this article, and it is one reason why someone who is constructing a mikveh should always be in contact with a posek familiar with mikveh construction, even if it is meant only for keilim.

Drawn water

For a mikveh to be kosher it must also meet several other requirements. The mikveh must, originally, be filled with water that was never inside a vessel. Water that was once in a bucket, drum or similar container is called she’uvim (literally, drawn) and invalid for use for purification, unless it became connected to a kosher mikveh or spring. The laws here are highly complicated, again providing a reason why one should not construct a mikveh without guidance from someone well familiar with these halachos.

Once a mikveh contains the minimal amount of water needed to be kosher, one may add she’uvim water to the mikveh, and it remains kosher. There are early authorities who contend that this holds true only as long as one is not actively removing water from the mikveh, but that once one begins to remove water from the mikveh one must be certain that the majority of the remaining water in the mikveh is not she’uvim. Although many authorities rule that one does not need to be concerned about this minority opinion, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 201:63) and others rule that one should build a mikveh that is kosher even according to this opinion, and that is the usual practice. (However, see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #203, 212, 214, who did not feel it necessary to take this into consideration when constructing a mikveh.)

In order to accommodate the Shach’s concern, most mikva’os are built according to one of three basic designs or a combination of them. In one design, a mikveh that was originally filled with rainwater lies alongside the pool used for immersion, but with a concrete wall between them in which there is an opening in the concrete above the point to which the pool will be filled. Regular tap water is added to the mikveh until its water rises high enough so that it spills through the hole into the adjacent pool that is meant for immersion. After this process is performed, the pool may be used for ablution according to all opinions. This approach, which is called zeriyah, was the approach recommended by the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 123:5) and the Taharas Hamayim (Chapter 46), and is the most common construction used in most mikva’os today.

The second approach has a similar appearance, in that there are two adjacent pools separated by a concrete wall which has an opening between them that is high on the wall. However, in this instance, the water is added to the side that is used for immersion until the water level raises high enough that its water touches the mikveh water which is located adjacent to it. The minimum size for such an opening is kishefoferes hanod, the opening of a flask, which means that it is large enough for one to place two fingers inside and rotate them comfortably. This approach is called hashakah.

A third approach, used in some mikva’os, is that they are constructed such that there is an additional rainwater mikveh immediately below or alongside the ablution pool, and that there remains a small opening between the ablution pool and the mikveh that is always open. This approach is called hashakah beshaas tevilah. The intrepid reader wishing to read up on the controversy concerning this mikveh will read Shu”t Divrei Chayim 2:98 and Pischei Mikva’os by Rav Yaakov Blau, Chapter 9, footnote 41.

Sink or swim

As we have now seen, constructing a mikveh requires that one knows how to do so in a halachically correct way. It is unlikely that someone without this knowledge will be able to construct a mikveh correctly. It is for this reason that one should be careful not to use a mikveh without finding out which halachic authority sanctioned it. I have found mikva’os in hotels that were halachically problematic, because they were not constructed according to proper halachic instruction. Similarly, in many places it is common that hardware and houseware stores construct their own keilim mikveh on the premises. These mikva’os may indeed be kosher, but one should not rely on their kashrus without finding out which rav verifies that the mikveh was manufactured correctly or having the mikveh checked by someone familiar with the laws of mikva’os.

Make my own mikveh

The simplest type of mikveh, far easier to make than those described above, is sometimes constructed for immersing vessels. In these instances, water, usually gathered from the roof of an adjacent building, is channeled into a concrete basin. The pipes used for this endeavor may not be mekabeil tumah, susceptible to tumah, something not difficult to arrange, and the walls of the mikveh must be constructed in a way that they contain nothing that is mekabeil tumah.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with having steel mesh reinforcing the concrete walls of a mikveh. Although a steel vessel would be mekabeil tumah and is therefore unacceptable in the construction of a mikveh, steel mesh is not itself an implement and it may therefore be used to reinforce the concrete basin of a mikveh.

At this point, we can address the second of the questions raised at the beginning of this article: “How difficult is it to make my own keilim mikveh?”

If someone is looking to make a small keilim mikveh, it is not that difficult or expensive a project. However, prior to making the mikveh, he should contact a rav or posek who knows how a mikveh is constructed. Indeed, someone building a proper keilim mikveh is performing a major chesed for his community and receives reward for everyone who ultimately uses it.

Let me explain what one needs to do. A keilim mikveh requires two basic factors: a pool where the keilim will be dipped, and the means of draining rainwater into that pool. The manufacture of the pool requires only that one pour concrete in a way that the pool will hold the requisite volume of water. Since this is being used only for vessels, there is no need to construct any building around it, and one does not need to be concerned about hot water, plumbing, or heating. Again, I suggest that this construction should not be undertaken without first consulting with someone who has the halachic expertise to ascertain that it is done properly.

City water

Why don’t we use only regular tap water for the mikveh? What could be wrong with this?

Although indeed some have advocated that regular piped water does not qualify as she’uvim and can therefore be used all by itself for filling mikva’os (see, for example, the work, The Secret of the Jew, by Rabbi David Miller), most authorities are hesitant in recommending its use. To understand why, there is a thorough essay on the topic in Chapter 40 of Taharas Hamayim, an encyclopedic work on the laws of mikveh with an emphasis on contemporary issues, authored by the late Rav Nissen Telushkin. In that chapter, Rav Telushkin describes how he made an exhaustive study of the New York City water system, and includes the various sources of water that New York City used in the 1950’s when he performed his study. The chapter includes detailed diagrams and descriptions of the various pumps, holding tanks, filters, meters, and pressure tanks that were used then in the processing and the transporting of the water. Rav Telushkin carefully analyzed each piece of equipment to see whether it was mekabeil tumah. He concluded that, in his day, in most places of New York City, the city water supply could be used, if needed, as the main source for the water in a mikveh, but that there were areas where this would not be allowed. The reason for these exceptions was that in these places, the water was transported through a pressure tank that, halachically, might have been equivalent to it being in a vessel. Based on all his research, he concludes that one should never use the publicly- supplied tap water as the original water of a mikveh unless one has done the exhaustive research necessary to see that in your locale such water is indeed kosher for mikveh use.

In the stream

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “Where I live, there is no mikveh that can be used for immersing new cutlery. May I dip the flatware in a local stream?”

Obviously, this stream is not a kosher mikveh, because its water is flowing. The question that we need to determine is whether a stream qualifies as a ma’ayan, according to halachah, in which case it can be used, even though its water is flowing constantly. How does halachah determine whether the water source of a stream is a spring, or whether it is rainwater?

Halachah recognizes three types of streams. One is a stream which is fed mostly by spring water, but has a minority of its water (that is, less than fifty percent) from rainwater. Since a majority of its water volume is composed of spring water, this stream can be used while it is flowing (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 201:2).

A second type is a stream that normally consists of spring water but that now has swollen to more than twice its volume after a rainfall, or when the snow melts. According to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, since most of the volume of the stream is now rainwater, it may not be used to make items tahor, unless one can make its waters stationary. The Rema (ad loc.), however, rules that, although it is preferable to follow this ruling, there was a prevalent custom based on halachic sources to permit use of this stream, even when it is flowing. He concludes that one need not correct someone who relies on this approach.

The third type of stream

The third type is a stream that dries up completely when there has been no rainfall. Such a stream may not be used as a spring and can be used only if one can make its water stationary (Rema ad loc.).

We can now answer the question raised: May a stream be used to dip vessels that require immersion? When the stream’s volume does not double after a rainfall, all opinions agree that one may use it, even when its water is flowing. When its volume is doubled, or more, there is halachic basis to permit its use when its water is flowing, although the Shulchan Aruch and others prohibit this. A stream that dries up completely when there is no rain may be used to immerse utensils only as a mikveh, which means one would have to make the water stationary in order to use it.

Conclusion

The Torah provides us with a mitzvah to immerse food utensils, because this immersing elevates their sanctity so that they can now be used for a Jew’s table. Thus, we see that not only is the food that a Jew eats required to have special care, but also the equipment with which he prepares and eats that food.

 

Bleaching or Laundering?

Parshas Pinchas is the only parsha that mentions specifically the korbanos offered on Shabbos, thus, providing a reason to discuss the laws of Shabbos.

 

Bleaching or Laundering?

 

Question #1: Bleaching or laundering?

 

“Is the name of the melacha bleaching or laundering?”

 

Question #2: Painting white

 

“If someone whitewashes his wall or paints something white, what melacha has he performed?”

 

Question #3: Threading a thread

 

“What could possibly be wrong with moistening a thread on Shabbos?”

 

Among the 39 melachos of Shabbos listed in the Mishnah is melabein, which I will translate and define shortly. It is the second of the thirteen melachos involved in manufacturing a garment, which is referred to as sidura debeged. In order, they are: Gozeiz (shearing), melabein, menapeitz (carding or untangling), tzovei’a (dyeing), toveh (spinning thread), meisach (warping, a step in preparing to weave), oseh batei nirim (creating a heddle, a further step in preparing to weave, oreig (weaving), potzei’a (undoing a weave), kosheir (tying), matir (untying), tofeir (sewing), and korei’a (tearing).

 

Bleaching or laundering?

 

The rishonim dispute what is the definition and the proper translation of melabein. According to Rashi (Shabbos 73a), the correct translation of the melacha is laundering. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:10) disagrees, contending that the actual definition of the av melacha is bleaching, which means removing the color from a fabric or fiber. Although the Rambam agrees that laundering on Shabbos is prohibited min haTorah, in his opinion, laundering is a toladah, or subcategory, of the melacha of melabein, not the av melacha, or primary category.

 

A question that one would ask on this ruling of the Rambam is why bleaching is not considered the same melacha as tzovei’a, dyeing, which is also concerned with changing the color of a fiber. Since melabein is bleaching, which changes the color of an item, and tzovei’a is dyeing, which changes the color of an item, why are these two separate melachos?

 

The answer appears to be that whereas tzovei’a adds color to the fiber, bleaching removes color from the fiber. In the Rambam’s opinion, a distinction is made between adding color to an item, which constitutes tzovei’a, and bleaching it, which removes the color and constitutes melabein. Laundering, which removes impurities from the cloth that detract from its appearance, is therefore a toladah of melabein.

 

An advantage to the Rambam’s approach is that melabein shares its root with lavan, which means white. (As a curiosity, the Modern Hebrew word for bleaching is malbin, derived from the same root, lavan. The word malbin is used in the Mishnah [Nega’im 4:4], although there it has a different meaning from the modern word. In the Mishnah the word means turning white. [See a similar usage in Parah 2:5.]) Since Rashi understands that the av melacha melabein means laundering, it is strange that the Mishnah did not call the melacha mechabeis, which means laundering.

 

It should be noted that there is a rishon who appears to hold that bleaching is not included under melabein at all, but is forbidden because of tzovei’a (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 93b s.v. ha). This approach follows Rashi that melabein means laundering, but restricts laundering to actions that clean, and does not extend it to those that change the material’s color. Any activities that change an item’s color are considered tzovei’a, according to this opinion.

 

Clean or color?

 

This dispute between Rashi and the Rambam reflects different ways of understanding the concept of the melacha. According to Rashi, the focus of the melacha is the cleaning of cloth, whereas the Rambam understands its focus to be changing the cloth’s appearance. Laundering is included, according to the Rambam, because it changes the appearance of the cloth, albeit by removing dirt rather than by removing color.

 

There are halachic differences that result from this dispute, although I am unaware of any that affect us today. When the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu, there will be questions regarding offering korbanos chatos that will be affected by the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam.

 

Notwithstanding their dispute, both Rashi and the Rambam agree that all forms of laundering are prohibited on Shabbos. In the modern world, most laundering is performed by dropping clothes into a washing machine, adding detergent, and turning the machine on to its appropriate cycle. However, prior to the invention of the washing machine, mankind was familiar with the different stages involved when laundering clothing. There are numerous questions germane to the details of how one launders clothing that affect the halachic application of melabein.

 

Several stages

 

There are several stages involved in laundering. First, one soaks the clothing or fiber, which loosens the grime. Then, one scrubs the clothing or fiber, which separates the loosened grime from the fibers of the material. One then wrings out the water, which removes much of the dirt. Finally, one rinses out the material, which washes away the remaining dirt residue. Thus, the standard way of laundering clothes involves four different steps: soaking, scrubbing, wringing, and rinsing. Let us now understand some other halachic ramification of these steps.

 

Soaking

 

The Gemara teaches that throwing a kerchief into water violates Shabbos min haTorah as an act of laundering (Zevachim 94b). As we will see shortly, this is prohibited not only if one soaks the cloth, but even if one only moistens it (Rashi, Shabbos 142b).

 

The rishonim disagree as to whether one violates melabein if one soaks cloth that one is not trying to clean. There is also a dispute whether soaking or moistening cloth is prohibited if one does it in a way that one is soiling the cloth, such as by mopping up a spill with a piece of cloth or a rag on Shabbos. Because of space limitations, we will need to discuss these topics at a future time.

 

Rashi (Shabbos 142b) notes that pouring a small amount of water onto cloth similarly violates laundering. For this reason, one must always be careful not to place even a small amount of water or spittle on a stain on Shabbos. This is prohibited min haTorah even if one is concerned that the stain will set and ruin the garment.

 

Moistening a thread

 

The Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7:2) rules that moistening a thread in one’s mouth on Shabbos, such as what one would do to thread a needle, violates a Torah violation of soaking the thread. It is unclear whether the Yerushalmi considers any moistening of a thread, even with water, to be laundering, or if the concern is only because one is using saliva, which has a special ability to launder, something that was well-known in the days of Chazal (Mishnah, Niddah 9:6).

 

Here is an interesting ramification of this ruling. Someone sewed a button onto their garment shortly before Shabbos. On Shabbos, he noticed that there was extra thread dangling from the button of a garment. The logical, short-term solution for this problem is to moisten the offending extra thread and wrap it around under a button. However, halachically, doing this presents a serious problem. According to the above-quoted Yerushalmi, moistening the thread in order to facilitate this winding is prohibited min haTorah!

 

Squeezing

 

One of the steps in laundering clothing is that one wrings the dirty water out of the clothing. Wringing out cloth is a kind of squeezing. This sometimes creates confusion, because, the laws of Shabbos recognize two types of squeezing, what I will call (1) extracting and (2) wringing. The first type involves extracting juice or oil from fruit, such as grapes or olives, which is prohibited on Shabbos but has nothing to do with the laws of laundering. According to most rishonim, this type of squeezing is a violation of the melacha of dosh, threshing. The melacha of dosh is violated when one breaks the natural, physical connection between two items that are dissimilar in their use, thus creating a product that can be used easily. Further discussion of this type of squeezing, extracting, is beyond the scope of this article, whose topic is laundering.

 

Wringing

 

Wringing cloth to clean it is a different type of squeezing, and this is involved only when one squeezes out something that can be laundered, such as cloth or fabric. According to all opinions, it is forbidden min haTorah to squeeze water out of cloth. The rishonim debate whether this melacha is violated when one wrings out a cloth to remove absorbed wine, beer, oil or other liquids that are not customarily used for cleaning. Rabbeinu Tam contends that squeezing these liquids out of cloth is not prohibited min haTorah unless one wants to use the liquid (in which case it would be prohibited because it is considered extracting), whereas his nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchok (whose name is usually abbreviated to R’Y), ruled that it is prohibited min haTorah (Tosafos, Kesubos 6a s.v. Hei, and other rishonim ad locum; Sefer Hayoshor #283; Tosafos, Shabbos 111a). Because of space considerations, further discussion on this subtopic will be left for a future article.

 

Brushing a garment

 

According to many authorities, one can violate melabein even without use of water by brushing out a garment, at least under certain circumstances (Rema, Orach Chayim 302:1; Bach, Elyah Rabbah, Mishnah Berurah, Biur Halacha). For this reason, one should refrain from brushing clothes on Shabbos. The Mishnah Berurah (302:6) rules that one should be careful on Shabbos to place his clothes in places where they will not fall into dust or dirt, so that he does not come to brush the clothes.

 

At this point, we can answer the three questions that we posed at the beginning of our article:

 

Bleaching or laundering?

 

“Is the name of the melacha bleaching or laundering?”

 

Actually, it is a dispute among rishonim whether the melacha should be defined as

 

bleaching or as laundering, although for our contemporary purposes there may not be a halacha lemaaseh difference.

 

Painting white

 

“If someone whitewashes his wall or paints something white, what melacha has he performed?”

 

The answer is that he violated the melacha of tzovei’a, dyeing, not of melabein.

 

Threading a thread

 

“What could possibly be wrong with moistening a thread on Shabbos?”

 

Indeed, it might be prohibited min haTorah to do so, because it is considered that one laundered the thread.

 

We will continue our discussion of meleches melabein in three weeks.

 

Of Umbrellas, Trees and Other Kohen Concerns

Question #1: Does tumah spread under umbrellas?

Question #2: The exit off the highway I take to work borders on a non-Jewish cemetery, and there are trees overhanging the road. One of the fellows I carpool with is a kohen, but he is not bothered about this issue. Even though I am not a kohen, should I be concerned?

INTRODUCTION

Parshas Chukas discusses tumas meis, the spiritual defilement that results from contact with a corpse or other human remains. When the parah adumah is restored and we endeavor to keep ourselves tahor whenever possible, Jews will be more mindful of how tumah spreads. In that era, every Jew will be careful to be tahor when separating challah and terumah, eating maaser sheini and korbanos, and entering the Beis HaMikdash, all of which should be performed only when tahor. (Unfortunately, today we separate challah, terumah and maaser sheni when we are tamei because we have no other option.) For these and many other reasons, the laws of tumah and taharah will then affect everyone.

In the interim, the laws of tumas meis do not directly concern most people, but they certainly affect kohanim, since the Torah prohibits them from contracting tumas meis. Nevertheless, every Jew should be familiar with these halachos since a knowledgeable non-kohen can often prevent a kohen from becoming tamei, as we will soon see. Furthermore, a non-kohen may not cause a kohen to become tamei.

SOME BASIC LAWS OF TUMAH

A person can become tamei meis in three different ways: 1) maga (touching), 2) masa (carrying or moving, even if one does not touch the remains), and 3) being under the same ohel (roof). A kohen is prohibited from becoming tamei meis by any of these methods and therefore he may not touch, move, or be in the same ohel as human remains. (There are two exceptions when a kohen must become tamei: either to a close relative, or to a meis mitzvah, the corpse of a Jew that has no one else to take care of it.)

DO REMAINS OF A NON-JEW CONVEY TUMAH?

The remains of a gentile convey tumas meis if they are touched or carried. There is a dispute whether these remains convey tumas ohel, and the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is proper to be careful (Yoreh Deah 372:2). Therefore, a kohen should not enter a room containing the remains of a non-Jew. This last halacha affects kohanim entering hospitals when it is not a life threatening emergency, and visiting museums which may have human remains. (My experience is that most museums contain some form of tumas meis.)

AN OHEL IS NOT JUST A TENT

Although the word ohel also means “tent,” or “roof,”  tumas ohel has much broader connotations and  is conveyed via almost any cover or overhang at least a tefach wide (about three inches) [Ohalos 3:7]. Therefore, a protrusion, overhang, umbrella, or branch with this width is an ohel; if it is over a grave or corpse, it conveys tumah to anyone standing anywhere underneath.

NARROW BRANCHES

Many authorities contend that an ohel that is a tefach wide at one point spreads tumah under its entirety, even under a narrower part (Rambam, Tumas Meis 12:6; 18:1; cf. the Rosh’s commentary to Ohalos 15:10, who disagrees). According to this approach, a tree branch that is a tefach-wide at one point continues to be an ohel when it narrows and can thus spread tumah rather extensively. Some contend that this is true only when the branch or protrusion is a tefach-wide for a majority of its length (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 371:25; the Tosafos Yom Tov seems to disagree.), whereas others maintain that it becomes an ohel only if the tumah is located beneath its tefach-wide section (Sidrei Taharos, Ohalos 12:6).

CONNECTING OHEL AREAS

Tumas ohel spreads from one ohel area to any other ohel that overlaps or connects even if the different ohel “roofs” are of very different heights. Therefore, a series of overlapping or connecting roofs, ledges, caves, umbrellas, tree branches, or even people, can create a continuous ohel that transfers tumah for great distances. Indeed, what appears to be separate buildings or structures may be one large ohel connected by open doors and windows (under certain circumstances, even through closed ones), ledges or tunnels, and tumah in one building may spread across an entire complex of buildings. This is particularly common in hospitals, museums, shopping malls, university campuses and airport terminals where remains in one part of the building, or even on an airplane connected to the terminal through a jetway, may spread tumah throughout the entire facility.

Another example of this principle is that if human remains are transported into an airport terminal or medical facility that connects to a subway station, tumah spreads throughout the entire subway system and prohibits any kohen from remaining anywhere in the subway, since the entire system qualifies as one large ohel. Therefore someone dying in a Bronx subway station contaminates a kohen awaiting his commuter train in Penn Station!

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

The human body can also function as an ohel that conveys tumah. For this reason, a person leaning out of a window over a corpse or grave becomes an ohel that transfers tumah into the house (Ohalos 11:4). Similarly, people crowded around a corpse or a grave can create a continuous ohel that transfers tumah to anyone who touches them. Because of this, a kohen attending a funeral should keep his distance from the crowd.

In the same vein, when a crowd of people escort a meis on a rainy day, one person whose body is partly above the casket spreads tumah via his body to the area under an umbrella, and then the tumah spreads throughout the crowd from umbrella to overlapping umbrella. Some authorities contend that a kohen must distance himself four amos (about seven feet) away from the umbrella nearest him.

I once attended a funeral in a yeshiva beis hamedrash where the tumas meis spread through an open door under the building’s awning, under umbrellas outside, and then from umbrella to umbrella for a very extended area. The tumah eventually reached an area where many kohanim had gone to avoid becoming tamei, but they were completely unaware that they had violated a Torah prohibition! All this could and should have been avoided with a little foresight and planning, such as arranging an assembly area for kohanim distant enough to keep them tahor. A well-educated yisroel could have resolved the unfortunate problem. Since many people have told me that this is not an uncommon problem, I advise that funerals be arranged for sunny days!

TREES

As we saw above, a kohen must be careful not to pass beneath a tree branch that also overshadows a grave. It is common to find large trees overhanging a cemetery and a section of roadway at the same time. As I pointed out, even if the cemetery is not Jewish the Shulchan Aruch advises that a kohen should avoid defiling himself in the ohel of a non-Jew. It is certainly a problem if the cemetery is Jewish. If this case affects you, I suggest asking a shaylah what to do.

Also, it often happens that one side or one lane of a road passes under trees that overhang a cemetery while the other side or lanes do not. Sometimes, while driving down a city street, a kohen suddenly realizes that the street ahead passes alongside a cemetery and that there are trees overhanging the roadway. Obviously, he should not swerve suddenly and endanger people in order to avoid defiling his kedusha; however, people should prevent this situation by notifying kohanim that the road is problematic.

LEAVES OR ONLY BRANCHES?

Although several places in the Mishnah and Gemara (Bava Basra 27b; Negaim 13:7; Kiddushin 33b) assume that tumas meis spreads underneath trees, the authorities dispute whether leaves and twigs create an ohel, or only branches. Some poskim contend that leaves and twigs rarely become an ohel; others make a distinction between sturdy ones that can bear weight and those that cannot; others distinguish between large leaves and small ones; and still others discriminate between leaves of deciduous trees and those of evergreens that have leaves all year round (see Sukkah 13b; Rambam, Tumas Meis 13:3).

DATELINE: LVOV, POLAND, ROSH HASHANAH, 1620

The halachic questions raised above became mired in controversy in 17th Century Lvov (more commonly known to Jews as Lemberg), Poland. (Because of the extensive shift of international borders at the end of World War II, this city is now located in the Ukraine.)

On Rosh Hashanah 5381 (corresponding to September 1620), Lvov’s new rav, Rav Yaakov Kopel Katz, noticed that people were walking into a nearby forested area. Rav Katz noticed that the dense foliage under which people were relaxing continued until the local cemetery. Rav Katz prohibited kohanim from entering this area, contending that tumah from the cemetery spread under the tree canopy, contaminating the entire area. Thus, he felt that kohanim relaxing in this area were violating the Torah prohibition of contracting tumas meis.

The townspeople claimed that the Drisha, possibly the greatest posek of his generation, who had himself been a kohen, had walked and sat under these same trees when he had served as Rav of Lvov only a few years before. Rav Katz countered that at the time of the Drisha, the tree canopy must not have extended so far, and the areas he walked under were not connected to the cemetery.

What exactly was the question? Apparently, the trees in question did not have wide branches, but did have dense foliage comprised of small leaves that touched together, leaving no space between them. Rav Katz held that even twigs and leaves not strong enough to support any weight can still combine to form an ohel. He also held that although plants that die in the winter are not significant enough to be an ohel, the deciduous leaves of trees that survive from year to year do qualify as an ohel.

Rav Katz wrote an extensive responsum outlining his halachic concerns and sent it to a different kohen in Lvov, a talmid chacham named Rav Avraham Rapaport. Rav Rapaport disagreed with Rav Katz and penned his own correspondence wherein he maintained that these trees did not spread tumah. Rav Rapaport contended that twigs and leaves form an ohel only when they fulfill the following conditions:

  1. They are strong enough to bear the weight of a layer of plaster applied to them.
  2. Each leaf is itself the size of a square tefach, approximately three inches by three inches. He maintained that one does combine different leaves and/or twigs to form an ohel, even if there is no space between them at all.
  3. The leaves are evergreen (see also Gesher HaChayim pg. 87).

According to Rav Rapaport, the Drisha might indeed have been relaxing under the same foliage that still existed in 1620! (Of course, we will never know.)

Rav Rapaport then mailed the two responsa, his own and Rav Katz’s, to a third scholar, Rav Aharon Abba HaLevi, who concluded like Rav Rapaport, although for slightly variant reasons. He agreed with Rav Katz that leaves combine to form an ohel, but in addition to remaining through the winter and being strong enough to withstand the weight of a layer of plaster, he added yet another condition: They must be sturdy enough not to be blown by a typical wind (see Tosafos, Sukkah 13b).

Rav Rapaport then sent the three responsa to the gadol hador, the Tosafos Yom Tov, for his ruling on the famed trees of Lvov. The Tosafos Yom Tov sided with Rav Rapaport and Rav Aharon HaLevi that the leaves involved were not an ohel. However, the Tosafos Yom Tov held a stringent opinion concerning a related issue that none of the other scholars had addressed. He contended that if the branches are a tefach wide at any point, tumah continues to spread even when they narrow. (As I mentioned above, this is subject to a dispute between the Rambam and the Rosh. Among the later authorities, most rule like the Rambam and the Tosafos Yom Tov [Dagul MeiRevavah on Shach 371:14; Chochmas Odom; Aruch HaShulchan], whereas some rule like the Rosh [Chasam Sofer, Chullin 125a].) (Rav Rapaport printed the correspondence of the four rabbonim as a chapter in his own magnum opus, Shu”t Eisan HaEzrahi #7.)

FROM LVOV TO NORTH AMERICA

This last distinction is critical. It is very common that the branches of a mature tree are a tefach wide near the trunk although they narrow as they grow. According to Tosafos Yom Tov’s conclusion, these trees will spread tumah under their boughs even if they narrow considerably, thus spreading tumah to a considerable extent. The result is that if the branch of a tree one tefach wide at one point spreads over the graves, and this branch then extends over or under a branch from another tree, which in turn stretches over or under a branch from another tree, the tumah will continue to spread as long as each branch is a tefach wide at some point. (As mentioned above, some commentaries contend that the tumah spreads from one branch to another only when both branches are a tefach wide at the point that they cross one another.) This is because beneath each branch is an ohel, and the tumah extends from one ohel to another.

In the contemporary world, this shaylah is extremely germane due to the widespread use of large trees as urban landscape. It is very common for trees to overhang cemeteries in a way that spreads tumah onto nearby highways, streets, and sidewalks. With this information, we can now address the first question raised above: “The exit off the highway I take to work borders on a non-Jewish cemetery, and there are trees that overhang the road. One of the fellows I carpool with is a kohen, but he is not concerned about this issue. Do I need to be?”

There is indeed cause for concern. Due to technical factors such as the width of the branches and the locations of the graves, and halachic factors, one should ask one’s rav what course of action to follow in this situation.

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

A shaylah very similar to our contemporary case involved a dispute between two mechutanim, both of them prominent rabbonim, Rav Yosef Hock and the Teshuvah Mei’ahavah, Rav Elazar Flekelis, who was the primary disciple and successor of the Noda BiYehudah. The case involved a shul adjacent to a cemetery that was used for fetuses and stillborns, whose unmarked graves convey tumas meis and tumas ohel. A tree’s branches extended over the cemetery and its branches brushed against the shul building. When the windows of the shul were open, if indeed the tree conveyed tumah, the tumah would now spread from the tree through open windows into the shul, creating a problem for kohanim. Rav Hock contended that the tree limbs did not require trimming since they were very weak and would not withstand any weight. Furthermore, it was uncertain whether the tree overhung the unmarked graves, since no one was certain exactly where the fetuses were laid to rest.

However, the Teshuvah Mei’ahavah took issue with many of the facts presented by his mechutan, contending that it was possible that the entire cemetery was already filled with graves, that the tree branches would eventually grow strong enough to bear weight, and that it is far better to accustom the community to trim the branches regularly and avoid any problem. Furthermore, he notes that it is not certain that a branch too weak to support any weight is not an ohel (Teshuvah Mei’ahavah Vol. 1 #89).

CONCLUSION

Certainly umbrellas and trees can convey tumas meis; the halacha discussion is whether thin branches, twigs, and leaves do. Thus, a tree overhanging both a cemetery and a highway provides good reason to research whether a halachic problem exists. The checking of the layout and other factors should be performed by a non-kohen who is highly knowledgeable in the laws of tumas meis.

WHY IS IT PROHIBITED FOR A KOHEN TO COME IN CONTACT WITH A MEIS?

Although it is beyond our ability to fathom the reasons for the mitzvos, we can and should attempt to glean a taste of Hashem’s mitzvos in order to grow from the experience of observing them. Thus, it behooves us to attempt to explain why the Torah bans a kohen from having contact with a meis under normal circumstances.

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary on Vayikra 21:5, provides us with a beautiful insight into this mitzvah. In most religions, fear of death and what happens afterwards are the major “selling points.” Thus, the role of the priest is most important when dealing with death. However, the Torah’s focus is how to live like a Jew—to learn Torah and perform mitzvos, and devote our energies to developing ourselves in Hashem’s image. To emphasize that the Torah is the blueprint of perfect living, the kohen, who is the nation’s teacher, is excluded from anything to do with death. The kohen’s role is to imbue us with the knowledge and enthusiasm to live!!

 

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Since Bilaam’s agenda included destroying all our shullen, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Question #1: Keeping them Waiting

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Question #2: Dwindling Minyan

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Question #3: Lowering the Bar

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim, the ladies’ section. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

Introduction: The Gadol of Brownsville

What do the above questions have to do with a gadol of Brownsville? Actually, there were many great talmidei chachamim who lived in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn during its heyday as a Jewish neighborhood. This article will discuss two shaylos that were asked of a world-class gadol who served as a rav in Brownsville, Rav Moshe Rosen. Rav Rosen is usually known by the name of a series of sefarim he authored, the Neizer Hakodesh, which plows original ground on the entirety of Seder Kodoshim, and also includes volumes on Pesachim, Yoma, Makkos and Niddah.

Rav Rosen was born in the 1870’s in Brainsk, in Polish Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). After marriage and five years of kest (the equivalent of kollel that existed for promising young talmidei chachamim in pre-World War I Eastern Europe), he became rav in Kveidan, a town near Kovno, Lithuania, where he remained through World War I before he moved to America. Even in his youth, he was a profound talmid chacham – as early an author as the Sedei Chemed quotes Rav Rosen with tremendous respect.[i]

In Europe, while yet a young man, the Neizer Hakodesh exchanged halachic correspondence with such luminaries as the nineteenth century’s poseik hador, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the Or Somayach, the Chofeitz Chayim, Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzensky, Rav Itzele Ponovitcher and Rav Menachem Ziemba.[ii] The Ponovitcher Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman, said that the Neizer Hakodesh’s Torah scholarship and brilliance was in the league of the greatest gedolim of Europe, an opinion that was echoed by another Lithuanian gadol, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky.

One of the other gedolim who knew and admired Rav Rosen when he was still a young man in Europe was the Chazon Ish, whose rebbitzen was a native of Kveidan and where he (the Chazon Ish) resided immediately after his marriage. One short anecdote demonstrates the respect the Chazon Ish had for the Torah greatness of Rav Rosen: Shortly after World War I, the Chazon Ish wanted to print a new edition of the very difficult mesechta, Keilim, with three commentaries, those authored by Rav Chayim Ozer, the Chazon Ish himself and the Neizer Hakodesh.[iii] Apparently, this initiative never saw fruition.

At the beginning of World War I, the Eastern Front of the war — between Germany and Russia — passed right through Kveidan and its environs, and most of the Jews fled to avoid the battlefront. Since no other rav was nearby, the Neizer Hakodesh remained in the area to oversee the chesed and mitzvos that needed to be performed. By the end of the war, there was no Jewish community left in Kveidan,[iv] and the Neizer Hakodesh relocated to America, where he settled in Brownsville.

Once in New York, the Neizer Hakodesh became the first Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. Among his early talmidim, was a young man named Avraham Pam, future Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaas and future Chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. In a later period, the Neizer Hakodesh would test (farher) the talmidim of Yeshivah Chayim Berlin. Decades later, he was also involved in the organization of the yeshivah Beis Hatalmud of Bensonhurst and of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

Upon arriving in America, Rav Rosen became rav of Khal Anshei Radishkovitz, colloquially known as the Amboy Street shul, one of the largest shuls in Brownsville. He later founded his own beis medrash, which, after his passing, was headed by his son, and later his son-in-law. The shul, now called Beis Hamedrash Harav, was subsequently relocated to Far Rockaway.

Rav Rosen authored over twenty sefarim, of which at least eighteen were subsequently published, most of them called Neizer Hakodesh. Many decades before the Brisker Rav popularized studying Seder Kodoshim in depth, Rav Rosen was attempting to re-breathe life into Kodoshim through his work, out of his home in Brownsville. He also authored several volumes of responsa and commentaries on Shulchan Aruch and Chumash.

Also a man of action, Rav Rosen raised money to support the Chazon Ish when he arrived in Bnei Beraq, and to assist the Brisker Rav when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Rosen predeceased the Brisker Rav, passing away on Sukkos 5717 (1957).

A teshuvah from Brownsville

In one of his responsa, Rav Rosen deals with the second question that I asked above: “For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Before I quote his response to this question, we should analyze the background of the issue.

What is a minyan?

We are all aware that several parts of our tefillah may be recited only when there is a quorum of at least ten adult men (a minyan) present. We are also aware that prayers recited together with a minyan accomplish more than when one prays by himself. To quote the Rambam: “The prayer of the community is always heard. Even when there are sinners among them, the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not despise the prayer of a group of people. Therefore, everyone is required to make himself part of the tzibur. One should not pray in private any time that one is able to pray with a community” (Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

In a related discussion, the Rambam notes that the repetition of the shemoneh esrei requires that ten adult men be in attendance. He explains that it is not necessary that all ten are davening at this moment, provided that at least six people in attendance daven their quiet shemoneh esrei together prior to the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.

At this point, let us quote the first question asked above:

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

The questioner is raising the following issue: Do six people davening together while ten are in attendance have all the value of tefillah betzibur, or does their joint prayer not carry all the merits of tefillah betzibur unless ten men are actually praying simultaneously? A corollary of this question is whether there is a preference to daven with a minyan where ten people are actually davening over one where less than ten are actually davening.

To answer this question, many authorities quote the words of the Chayei Adam (19:1):

“Someone who wants his prayers to be accepted should be careful to daven together with the tzibur… the main part of tefillah betzibur is the shemoneh esrei prayer, which means that ten adult males should pray together. The masses think, in error, that the purpose of tefillah betzibur is only to hear Kaddish, Kedushah and Borchu, and, as a result, they are not concerned about davening together, as long as there are ten people in shul. This is a major error. Therefore, it is a personal responsibility of each man to arrive in shul early and begin davening with the chazzan, so that he can daven in the proper order.”

Clearly, the main concern of the Chayei Adam was the bad habit of arriving late for services, resulting in not davening the shemoneh esrei together with the tzibur. However, while emphasizing the importance of reciting one’s prayers at the same time that the tzibur does, the Chayei Adam wrote, “the main part of tefillah betzibur is… that ten adult males pray together.” This is understood by many authorities to mean that although one may repeat the shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz) even if only six of the people in attendance have davened, it is not considered full-fledged tefillah betzibur unless at least ten actually davened together. These significant words of the Chayei Adam are quoted by the Mishnah Berurah.

The logic used to explain this position is that a minyan should be treated no different from any other minimum amount required for the performance of a mitzvah. When the Torah requires that we eat a kezayis (the volume-equivalent of an olive) of matzoh on Seder night, it is insufficient for someone to eat most of the volume-equivalent of an olive. The mitzvah is fulfilled only when one consumes an entire olive-sized piece. So, too, although six people davening with four others in attendance allows one to repeat the shemoneh esrei and to recite Kedushah, Kaddish and Borchu, ultimately one does not have a minyan of people davening simultaneously (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:28, 29, 30). Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach also held this position (Halichos Shlomoh 5:8).

Other authorities dispute this conclusion, contending that if ten people are in attendance, tefillah betzibur is accomplished even when only six of them daven at the same time. They contend that the first approach is reading more into the Chayei Adam’s comments than the author intended. The purpose of the Chayei Adam’s comments is only to show that reciting the shemoneh esrei with the tzibur is the primary focus of attending public prayer and not only the recital of Kaddish and Kedushah, unlike  the errant understanding of the common folk.

Those who espouse the latter position note that the Rambam’s comments imply that six people praying with four others in attendance constitutes tefillah betzibur. They note that since the Rambam implies that six people praying together with a minyan in attendance qualifies as tefillah betzibur, how can one infer from the Chayei Adam otherwise? If the Chayei Adam intended to dispute the Rambam’s conclusion, he would explain that he is doing so. Therefore, it is more likely that he agrees with the Rambam and that having six people davening does qualify as tefillah betizbur (Beis Baruch commentary on Chayei Adam). The Eimek Beracha (Tefillah #6) provides several indications that this is true, and rules that this is unquestionably accurate.

Returning to our first question: “Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Well, dear reader, what do you answer our friend? It depends which opinion of the two approaches one holds. According to the first approach, it is preferable to wait until ten people begin shemoneh esrei simultaneously, which accomplishes tefillah betzibur. According to the second approach, it is not required. The rav of the shul should decide which approach they should follow.

Dwindling minyan

At this point, I would like to address the second question posed above:

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

This actual question was asked of the Neizer Hakodesh. The first step in this question is: Assuming that at least six people are davening, is this considered tefillah betzibur?

The answer to this question is, of course, dependent on our previous discussion. In his responsum, the Neizer Hakodesh assumes that if ten people are not davening shemoneh esrei together, the resultant tefillah does not qualify as tefillah betzibur. However, notwithstanding that remaining in the dying shul deprives the questioner of the mitzvah of tefillah betzibur, Rav Rosen still concludes that he should remain at that shul — for a different reason, based on the following well-known Talmudic story (Berachos 47b):

Rabbi Eliezer, attended by his slave, entered a shul to discover that it was short one Jew for a minyan. Although a non-Jewish slave owned by a Jew is required to observe most mitzvos, he is still not considered a full-fledged Jew until he is freed, and he does not count towards a minyan. Rabbi Eliezer promptly freed his slave so that there would be a minyan and davening could begin. The Gemara asks: Upon what halachic basis did Rabbi Eliezer free his slave, since this act is prohibited by the Torah? The Gemara replies that since freeing his slave in this instance allowed a “community” of Jews to perform a mitzvah, a mitzvah of the community supersedes the prohibition of freeing one’s slave. Thus, we see the importance of enabling the tzibur to perform the various mitzvos, including reciting Kaddish, Kedusha, and Borchu, repeating the shemoneh esrei, and reading the Torah. Rav Rosen ruled that the community’s ability to observe these mitzvos holds greater halachic weight than the individual being able to daven with a proper minyan of ten people davening at the same time (Neizer Hakodesh U’she’eilos U’teshuvos #14).

Moving the ezras nashim

At this point, I would like to address the last of our opening questions:

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

The question here is based on the following halachic issue. The Gemara states that one may not take an item that is designated for a greater kedusha and now use it for a lesser kedusha (see Megillah 26a). The question is whether, since both the ezras nashim and the men’s section are designated for prayer, they have the same level of sanctity, or if there is any distinction between them.

The Neizer Hakodesh writes that a respected earlier authority, the Divrei Chayim, previously analyzed this question, noting that there are many mitzvos, such as reading the Torah, blowing Shofar, lighting the menorah on Chanukah, and the recital of elements of davening that require a minyan are based in the men’s shul. As a result, the Divrei Chayim concluded that although the ezras nashim certainly has great sanctity, there is more sanctity in the main shul. This precludes changing a section of the shul for use as an ezras nashim (Shu”t Divrei Chayim, Orach Chayim 2:14).

After discussing the issues at length, Rav Rosen voiced concern that should the shul not construct a lower ezras nashim, some women would begin to attend non-Orthodox congregations. He therefore recommended the following: Notwithstanding that the main shul cannot be converted to an ezras nashim, under the extenuating circumstances, one may be lenient that the area above the men’s height does not have the kedusha of the shul, and construct an auxiliary ezras nashim in the air space above part of the men’s section. Since this would not be much taller than the main shul, it would be easy to access with a short ramp or short set of stairs, thus being available to those who require it.

In the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein, we find a teshuvah where he was asked a similar question regarding changing the ezras nashim of a shul from a balcony to a section alongside the main shul with a proper mechitzah (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:43). Rav Moshe rules that one may not do this, because we see from the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) that it is preferred for the women’s section to be in a balcony. Although a shul whose ezras nashim is alongside the main shul and separated by a mechitzah is kosher, one should not replace a balcony mechitzah, which is the preferred choice, with one alongside the main shul. Rav Moshe is also clearly concerned that the attempt to change the mechitzah is meant to be a liberalizing step in the shul and could lead to other “innovations” with more serious halachic ramifications. He rules that the rav should fight this innovation of relocating the ezras nashim with all his might. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe rules that if the congregation moves the women’s section from a balcony to an area alongside the main shul with a kosher mechitzah, that the rav of the shul may keep his position, since the shul still has a kosher mechitzah.

Conclusion

I personally enjoy knowing something of the life of a gadol whose Torah I am studying. I hope that our readers similarly enjoyed reading a bit about Rav Moshe Rosen while studying some of his halachic rulings.

 

 

[i] The Sedei Chemed cites Rav Rosen in Volume 8 at the beginning of his exposition on the issues of Chanukah.

[ii] Most of the biographical information was obtained from Volume 3 of Rav Yisrael Shurin’s Morei Ha’umah and a published interview of Rav Rosen’s grandson, Rav Hillel Litwack of Flatbush.

[iii] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 35.

[iv] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 43.